Archive for the 'Aging' Category

Like falling off a log

Looking like vehicles that may have been designed with Batman in mind, our two dark gray electric-assisted bikes are nestled in our garage.

Unlike the spaciousness of Bruce Wayne’s bat cave, the garage is barely wide enough for our two cars. I am blessed with the starboard side of the garage that forces me to exit into the teeny space between the cars. My aging ligaments complain as I unscrew myself from the driver’s seat while avoiding a serious mishap that might require a series of follow-up visits to my chiropractor.

The two bat-bikes are lined up smack against the wall on the passenger side of my car, the same wall on which multiple menacing storage cabinets are hung. Negotiating the passageway between my car and the overhanging cabinetry invites a bloodletting injury to the top of my bald head.

The challenge presented by the bikes started in the MOB bike shop parking lot. I had just witnessed Jackie falling off her demo bike, and my brain decided to emulate the event with a four-star performance of my own, complete with scraped knee and severely damaged self-esteem. It was not a good omen.

Unfazed by the mishap, we forged ahead with the purchase of two bikes. The first, Jackie’s, was acquired from the Ojai Bike Store. Robert, the owner for some thirty-five years, was well informed and apparently willing to spend his thirty-sixth year exclusively in our company. Every inch of his store is covered with bikes, including some that are surely owned by deceased bikers who had grown weary waiting for repairs. The store, needing even greater challenges, also sells and services skateboards.

Before we met Robert, we had visited the MOB Shop for a demo that required disinfecting our hands, taking our temperatures, and completing a scary waiver of liability. These precautions proved particularly ineffective as both Jackie and I took headers off the bikes before leaving the parking lot. Sensing a possible lawsuit, the owner strongly urged me to give serious thought to my age and the foolishness that I was about to embark upon. To which I gave little heed as I remounted the bike while hiding my fears beneath a fragile facade of supreme confidence.

Robert embraced none of these precautions at the Ojai Bike Store. He merely turned on the bike batteries, adjusted the height of our seats, loaned us a couple of helmets, and waived farewell as we rode up Canada Street, scaring myself and the local motorists who somehow sensed the need to avoid us at all costs.

Electric assisted bikes are all the rage; perhaps too few riders have yet been maimed by them to cool their attractiveness. Consequently, the demand for these beasts exceeds the supply; like the Dutch tulip bulb craze in the 1600’s, this too shall reverse itself in due time.

Robert had a bike that met Jackie’s specifications…small, cute and comfy. We bought it, and like the birth of a couple’s first child, gave little thought to what comes next. My turn was less productive; Robert searched manufacturer databases to find one for me but came up empty. He offered a somewhat iffy chance that one would arrive in October. Unpersuaded by this modicum of hope and anxious to get the show on the road, Jackie took matters into her own hands.

Using the full capabilities of her iPhone 11, she called every bike store in the northern hemisphere and located the perfect bike in Costa Mesa, a mere two-hour jaunt from Ojai. The distance and the logistics of shlepping the bike home was too much for me. But not for Jackie.

Overcoming the salesman’s initial reluctance, she convinced the store to ship the bike to its Santa Monica sister location. Then she called the Santa Monica store and convinced them to bring it to Ojai free of charge, and that’s why it is now sitting in our aforementioned garage.

You’ve probably heard the old canard that once you learn how to ride a bike you never forget. While the basics of biking may be etched in one’s brain, nuances are another thing. While I may be able to mount a bike after 45 years of sloth and move 100 feet in a straight line, making a U-turn is another matter. There just doesn’t seem to be enough turning room; perhaps the streets are narrower than they were when I was a kid. Or the bikes are bigger. In either case, I cannot complete the U-turn before slamming into my neighbor’s parked Mercedes; I must get off the bike, back it up, straighten my trajectory and remount the beast. A sorry sight indeed. And if that wasn’t enough, this morning I watched two bike riding eight-year-olds perform feats that would have shamed the Flying Wallendas

But I’m learning. On Saturday we biked to Boccali’s pizza joint. It was a beautiful day, and caught up in the majesty of it, we had a glass of wine and gobbled up some delicious bruschetta. An hour later we got back on our bikes and rode down Highway 150 where I decided to make a right turn onto Carne Road. It must have been one of those narrower than I remember it roads. Failing to negotiate the turn and believing that riding into the ditch would be a bad move, I pancaked the bike and ended up kissing the road with my elbow. To assuage my feelings of incompetence, Jackie said it was the wine.

Realizing that my once-learned, never-forgotten skills would be a work in process, she bought a pocket-sized first-aid kit the next day. Something to look forward to.

This morning I decided to hone my skills. I carefully squeezed into the narrow space between my car and the garage wall and approached the sleeping bike with mounting apprehension. Avoiding the menacing overhead cabinets, I grasped the handlebars like a rodeo cowboy and slowly moved it backwards toward the safety of the open driveway. In my zeal to prove myself, I forgot about the bike pedals and banged one of them into my left shin. Bleeding like a hemophiliac, I decided that my bike day was over.

After all, I don’t want to rush my skills development and have nothing to do tomorrow.

I Looked Both Ways Today

I looked both ways today. Twice.

Marion Weil died last Friday in a tragic bicycle accident. Although an investigation is proceeding, it seems that a motorist ran into Marion while she was with her much-used Como electric bike on Cuyama Road in Ojai.

The motorist apparently was headed west on Cuyama around 7pm; a time when the sunset is beautiful but also deadly for pedestrians and bicycles who are confronted by a glare-impaired driver headed directly into the sun with a two-ton metal behemoth. “I never saw her. The sun blinded me. I couldn’t avoid her.”

That evening, shortly after the accident, Jackie received a call from a friend. I was busy in the kitchen when her phone rang. I eavesdropped. “Hi, always good hearing from you. What’s up?” The casual banter ended abruptly and was replaced with, “No, I don’t believe it. Oh my god.”

The conversation went on for a minute or two and I became more intrigued by it. It was obviously something more serious than a jilted woman, the inability to get a hair appointment, or the latest on the faculty infighting at Cal State.

I became more anxious as I tried to guess what was going on. Jackie completed the call, turned to me and said, “Marion Weil was hit by a car. She’s dead.”

A nanosecond passed and I thought, “That’s not right. It’s a mistake.”

Marion had been in our back yard about a month ago. At first refusing our cheap wine, she relented and had her fill. Clever and quirky without wine, she added humor and cuteness when she’d had a couple. At 78 she was analytical, remembered everything, and made physical fitness one of her mantras. She most assuredly planned to live to the biblical age of six score years.

In the midst of the pandemic, here was a perfectly clad Marion, without a sense of time, enjoying herself while regaling us with her upcoming adventures. Never shy, she revealed herself freely, and simultaneously questioned us unmercifully. I thought she’d never leave, yet we felt that something was missing when she finally walked out the gate.

Marion’s whereabouts were generally unpredictable. We often drove by the structure that housed her and her tenant, the Livingston Visiting Nurse Association. We looked for her unpretentious car as an indication of her Ojai presence. We often joked that when Marion became incapacitated by old age, a doubtful event, she only needed to walk the 50 steps between her digs and the VNA to jump into Hospice.

It doesn’t matter how many days pass; it seems like she is still with us. I expect to see her car in front of the VNA when I drive down Matilija Street. Or receive a text from her suggesting that we gather again in our backyard to meet a new friend. Or announcing that she’s off to Orange County to visit her favorite niece, and that she would be gone for an extended time. Maybe until fall. Maybe beyond. She’d promise to keep us in the loop, of course.

In addition to bequeathing a legacy of community involvement and support, Marion has left me with something else. Call it being careful. Call it a warning. Call it a wakeup.

I look both ways, twice, when crossing the street. Even that seems too little. I listen for the sounds of oncoming traffic and then realize that electric cars are stealthy. I look into the shadows cast by the giant oaks, fearing that a block of steel, painted black, is waiting for me. Playing no favorites, I also search for the oncoming bicycle which, while less lethal, could end my Shelf Road hiking escapades.

Not wishing to further irritate a driver who may be just off an argument with the spouse, I wait until traffic has cleared before stepping into the street. Pedestrian right-of-way means little to a preoccupied, irritable driver. Once in the street, I scurry across to reduce my chances of becoming one with the machine.

But there is a further urgency. Besieged by the latest Covid-19 affliction statistics, ballyhooed vaccine development, and moving target social engagement rules, Marion had little time to devote to the possibility of death on a bicycle.

Yet here we are. A reminder that we plan, and god laughs. Just when you think it’s safe to come in from the cold, a glacier falls on your face. Or as Forest Gump said, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

I think I’ll get a new bike.

A Bike Story

My first bicycle was a Schwinn. Black and white with shiny fenders, it gleamed in the sunshine as it stood waiting for me in the alley behind my folks’ second floor porch in Chicago’s Albany park, a mecca for transplanted Russians and other Jews.

I walked around the bike that my father had brought home the prior evening and had placed out of harm’s way in one of the darkened basement sheds allocated to tenants. I had whined for weeks about wanting a bike, so its appearance on my birthday was not a shock.

At eleven, I was not yet aware of my parents limited financial resources. Surrounded by family, friends, and other neighborhood denizens, I was primarily exposed to people living in similar circumstances. In retrospect, I’m sure that the bike took a healthy bite out of father’s paycheck.

SchwinnThe Cadillac of bikes, its company was established 1895 by Ignaz Schwinn, a German immigrant, and his meat packer partner Adolph Arnold. It survived the Great Depression and continued producing bikes in the U.S. under various corporate guises until it finally succumbed to the allure of Chinese productivity. The Paramount, Stingray, and Schwinn-Twinn came and went. Advertising kept Schwinn in the public eye; the company was an early sponsor of TV’s Captain Kangaroo.

I walked around the sturdily built bike with fat balloon tires and its lever-actuated bell mounted on the handlebar. In 1950, this bike would have been called snazzy, flashy, and sleek. I daydreamed about where it would take me while I built up my confidence. Finally, I lifted my left leg over the horizontal bar that announced the bicycle’s gender as a “boy’s bike.”

Swinging the kickstand up from the asphalt, I brought the left side pedal to its full vertical position and placed my foot on top of it. I pushed the pedal forward. The bike moved a few feet. I tried to hop up onto the thickly cushioned seat. And then I fell over.

The bike shivered as it came to rest on its left side, the front wheel spinning slowly for what seemed an eternity. Then it stopped and all was silent. I had scraped my knee but, in comparison to the shame I felt, it was no big deal. The bike had escaped relatively unscathed except for a scratch on the chrome plated handlebar near the bell. It was a reminder that stayed with me each time I mounted the Schwinn that took me through my college years.

I bought a ten-speed racing bike when our kids were safely in school. For not much reason other than it seemed like the thing to do. Like all bikes of its genre, it was fitted with a seat that produced pain at the same level as the Spanish Inquisition’s torture rack. The seat was a combination of metal tubing covered with some animal skin. That’s it. No padding. No springs. Not a good combination for a guy with a skinny ass and a low tolerance for pain.racing bike seat

When I began riding the bike with the Torquemada designed seat, I complained to whoever would listen. Some people commiserated while others said, “Keep at it. You’ll get used to it.” And I thought, “Why should I?”

My bike riding consisted largely of shifting gears that never seemed to do what I wanted, and repositioning my ass trying to share my discomfort equally with the various pressure points in my butt and my tailbone.  And so, unlike my dear Schwinn, the ten-speed ended up in our Northridge garage, gathering dust and losing air in the tires until they were flat. I finally sold it to someone with a highly cushioned ass, for a whole lot less than I paid for it. Good riddance.

Twenty years passed in Northridge while I avoided a further encounter with a bike. The next move to our Ojai home high up on the hill put an end to any thought of mounting one. The terrain was much too steep; merely walking up Sulphur Mountain Road required the skill of a gazelle and the lungs of a blue whale. People with bikes who tried it were known to stop mid-way, cry unconsolably, and admit defeat.

I moved to town almost a year ago. To a house without steps, on a flat lot, in a flat neighborhood and with a flat one-mile walk to the Ojai Post Office. Surrounded by scores of bikers, Jackie and I talked about being part of that in-crowd. We were particularly attracted to electric assisted E-bikes. Not a fully operational motor scooter, the E-bike merely compliments one’s own pedal power with an array of assisted options. Given my age, I felt no shame with the idea of sharing the load with a lithium ion battery.como ebike

A week ago, we called the MOB bike shop and found that they would be happy to have us try the E-bike that afternoon at 2. Choosing to ignore the current 99-degree temperature, we jumped at the offer. Arriving at the shop, I casually informed Jackie that my car thermometer was recording the first triple digits of the summer. Consistent with her penchant for following through with commitments, she said, “It’s an electric bike. We’ll go slow. Only for ten minutes. Don’t be a pussy. You’ll be fine.”

Tim took our temperature to rule out Covid-19; I was mildly disappointed when I passed the test. Handing us over to young Melanie, we signed the usual waivers relieving the shop of any liability including the crime of wantonly exposing octogenarians to bodily harm. She gave us general instructions that I immediately forgot, fitted us with fashionable helmets, and adjusted our seat heights to a position based on information only known to her.

Jackie was the first to fall from the bike not ten feet from the shop’s front door. Light as a feather, she landed unscathed. I figured I could do better. Mounting the bike, I depressed the left pedal. Moving forward I brushed against Jackie, lost my balance, and fell stage-right while the bike attempted a quick escape by falling stage-left. I scraped the same knee that was a victim in the Schwinn incident seventy years ago, including my embarrassment.

The shop owner, who had been watching this Marx Brothers routine, came closer to me than Covid-19 precautions allow and said, “You know, while the bike is valuable, the safety of our customers is our top priority.”

Translated, he meant, “Don’t you think you’re a little old for this? You’ll probably kill yourself. Be smart. Get your ass out of here before it’s too late.”

Rising to my full five-foot-eight and a half inches (I used to be five-ten), I thanked the owner for his concern, assured Jackie that I was in full control of my senses, and reclaimed the wayward bike.

We walked the bikes across Ojai Avenue, mounted them and rode with some trepidation to the bike path. We entered the path, dodged oncoming fearless bikers, and were successful at avoiding further mishaps.

We returned the bikes, once again walking them across the Avenue. I glanced at the owner and with some smugness said, “Thank you for your concerns but I’ve got everything under control.” Lying does not become me and I think he knew better; but, sensing a possible sale, he nodded his agreement.

My knee is nicely scabbed over. We’re going riding again tomorrow. Think I’ll wear long pants.

Only 81

It’s my birthday. The 81st in a long line of memories.

Jackie woke me this morning with a new Patagonia backpack that replaces the one that mysteriously disappeared when we moved to our new house. A big birthday balloon that she somehow sneaked past me yesterday is now prominently displayed over my head. And other more personal gifts were bestowed on me before the day was but an hour long.

It was chilly and too early to jump out of bed and leap onto the treadmill. So we stayed and remembered. Remembered our first birthday together when Jackie organized a star-studded bash at the house on the mountain in celebration of my 79th. Never one to let grass grow under her feet, she would not wait for my 80th.

I recalled my 80th when we spent the weekend at the Beverly Wilshire where I walked into the hotel room and found myself swamped by eighty mylar balloons, a very large bottle of champagne, and reservations at some upscale eateries.

Pausing in our morning reverie, Jackie asked “How old do you feel?”

I took a nanosecond to mentally compile my physical short-comings and my state of mind. I calculated the total miles hiked during the past week, the number of Zoom yoga sessions, the resulting improvement in flexibility, my iffy eyesight, ever-changing blood pressure and the results of my recent annual visit with Dr. Halverson. Without further hesitation I said “Sixty-eight.” In retrospect I have no idea where that came from.

I guess that when you are 81, 68 seems young. Thirteen years of birthdays, good times, and bad ones. Joy and heartbreak. Highs and lows. The loss of my sweet Ila, the passing of my staunchly independent son Steven, and the death of my big brother Irv all weigh heavily on the downside. Starting a new life with Jackie has added sparkle, unexpected opportunities, and much love. On balance, thirteen years brought significant challenges, some growth, and a boatload of smiles.

Still too early to leave the warmth of the bed and Jackie’s body, I chronicled my early years. Grandparents took center stage. Jackie’s were gone before she was born. Luckier than she, I remembered my father’s mother; a frail woman who wore a sheitel, the wig that observant Jewish married women wore to conform to religious law. Grandma Hinda was one of a long line of vision impaired ancestors who unknowingly passed the malady to my father and then to my brother. A floating specter, I never heard her speak; she was gone before I was old enough to remember who she was.

My paternal grandfather never left the Ukrainian shtetl where he was born. All I have of him is a family photo that includes my five-year-old father and his four siblings…Rifka, Bella, Nate and Lou. His history is gone but he surely was of meager means who lived nervously through the pogroms thrust upon the Jews of that region by the all-powerful Czar who was intent upon blaming my innocent zaide for bad harvests, icy winters and defeats at the hands of other imagined infidels.

My maternal grandfather died in Chicago when I was too young to remember. My only image of him is the one found in an oval shaped photo affixed to his grave site marker in a cemetery vandalized many times, and what is now all but forgotten.

In contrast to the others, I vividly remember bubbe Cipa, my maternal grandmother who came to live with us when her husband died. Speaking broken English tinged with Ashkenazic Yiddish, she was my playmate and confidante. We shared a small, one window bedroom in Chicago’s West Rogers Park, where she rubbed my back, helped me get to sleep on humid nights and hummed a tune to soothe my senses. I often regret cheating her at gin rummy, even though she probably knew and chose to let me do it anyway.

Morris and Celia, my parents, never read a Dr. Spock book (to this day I’m not sure that my mother could  read) never attended a holistic seminar and had no knowledge of yoga, tai chi or gluten free. Had they even heard of Vegans they would have thought they were from Mars. Fully devoted to putting food on the table and shelter over our heads, their free time was a special event not often repeated. They loved me unconditionally and I never felt the need to hear it from their lips.

The passage of 80 to 81 seems of little significance. Yet it is when measured by its relationship to my remaining years. I find the thought comforting rather than depressing. It provides an urgency that was all but absent at 25 or even 65. The limitation on remaining life prompts me to enjoy, contribute and live it to the fullest. Whether I take advantage of it is up to me.

Thank you, Jackie, for the three birthdays we have shared. Each was different, but all were memorable. Each reminded me of my past. Each offered a glimpse of a beautiful future. It’s up to us to choose it.

Let’s get physical

The year flew by and one of my markers came due.

Annual physicals at my age are always an adventure. Blood chemistries are my favorite part; they reveal aberrations, trends and a shitload of data that hopefully pops up in blue rather than the less welcome red icons.

My normal routine begins about three months prior to my physical. I’ve been congratulating myself for nine months but realize that happy times may be ending. Nine months of ignorant bliss evaporate as I mentally review the things I was worried about last year and prepare myself for results devoid of happy faces icons.

Blood pressure, PSA score, and hemoglobin levels are my A Team of things to worry about. The dire consequences of negative scores produce thoughts that make marching to the guillotine seem like a walk in the park. Visions of a heart attack, prostate cancer (complete with surgically produced impotency), and the requirement for round the clock kidney dialysis help me while away the hours until my day with Dr. H. My perennial low cholesterol, achieved despite shoving everything edible into my mouth, did nothing to cheer me.

The corona virus enhanced the joyous occasion and gave me something else to worry about whenever my dance card had an opening. As a level one hypochondriac, I think that all my symptoms, a cough, an achy shoulder, a warm forehead, a scratchy throat are all harbingers of the dreaded virus. On the other hand, a true affliction with Covid-19 might delay, or perhaps permanently postpone, my annual physical. Oh joy.

I had my blood drawn at Quest Lab three weeks ago. The phlebotomists were garbed in space suits while I was virtually naked. My veins were terrified of the creature with the needle and did the best they could by performing their much-practiced disappearing act. The alien creature won the battle with ax and jousting lance while I had the multi-toned black and blue marks to attest to the outcome. The vials of blood drawn from my conquered arm seemed a bit darker than usual. My clinically inaccurate observation once again filled a vacant spot on my dance card as I wondered if it portended dire results.

A week ago, I received an email from Quest announcing the on-line availability of my lab results. I was torn. In true pussy tradition, I decided to ignore the invitation and wait for Dr. H to announce them during my visit. I took this route knowing that his approach generally downplays the negative while cheering the positive. Had I taken the other option, negative scores would hang over my head for a full week before being coddled by Dr. H.  I congratulated my good thinking.

Wednesday, the day of my physical, arrived without any aberrant clinical symptoms; I got out of bed. Dressed and fortified by the vegetable juice stolen from Jackie’s personal stash, I drove to the clinic. Forewarned, I brought my flimsy face mask with the cute koala bear icons. It has four ties that must be fastened behind the head. It was the third time I had tried this acrobatic maneuver; fortunately, I completed the task before I could suffer a debilitating stroke from the effort.

I was a bit early for my 8am appointment and filled my time browsing the NY Times on my iPhone. The headlines had words that included catastrophic, pandemic, crisis and panic. They did little to soothe my already fragile psyche.

The door to the clinic opened and a creature who looked like an astronaut doing a space walk outside the International Space Station came out with a table and various implements. We spoke without the benefit of an interpreter, and I was heartened to discover that it was nurse Kathy.

She took my temperature and measured my oxygen saturation level with that cute little device that attaches to your finger. The device shoots beams of light through the blood in your finger and measures the changes in light absorption and eventually the amount of oxygen flowing to the farthest part of your body. I passed and was given a sticky note that looked suspiciously like the hall passes I got in high school.

I was weighed and measured. Still wearing my cute koala bear mask, I had my blood pressure taken and was escorted to an examining room. Devoid of magazines and deprived of my cell phone, I settled back for some serious meditation.

Dr. H arrived and, despite a professional looking face mask, seemed to be in good spirits. Not always a good sign, I wondered if I was being set up for a rude awakening and I refused to join in the gaiety.

He asked me some general questions about my aches and pains (none debilitating), my exercise routine (over the top), sleeping habits (whenever I can), and sexual habits (whenever I can). So far so good. Our adventure through the lab tests proved unexciting. Blood good, PSA stable.

We then did the old-fashioned thing. Dr. H listened to my heart and seemed to linger a bit longer than usual. A brief dissertation on heartbeat skipping led to a surprise EKG. What’s this heart crap, I thought. Blessedly, the results were devoid of any problems, and I thought that maybe someone was just reminding me not to take things for granted.

I smiled and silently thanked my parents for their genes. And I gave a big telepathic kiss to Jackie who had religiously forced me to eat my vegetables and dragged me on hikes along Shelf Road, uphill, both ways.

Plays, Cemeteries and Dinner

Sunday was our day at the Ahmanson.

Daughter Nancy and I have been series subscribers since Ila died. Ila loved musicals and we often found ourselves several rows back from the stages at LA’s downtown Music Center, the Ojai Art Center and the Rubicon in Ventura. Before we moved to Ojai and the schlep became a bridge too far, we had great seats at the Hollywood Bowl including coveted reserved parking.

As her illness progressed, Ila found the noise, regardless of the decibel level, and the milling crowds too much to handle and we stopped attending live plays and movies. Even a simple visit to the band shell in Libbey Park was, for her, like living through the height of the Luftwaffe’s 1940 London blitz.

Our final venture into entertainment was a trip to Hollywood’s rococo Pantages Theater to see Beautiful, the musical about Carol King. Ila lasted less than five minutes into the performance. Signaling her discomfort, she covered her ears. We rose from our center section seats and excused ourselves to each of the fifteen people we trod on as we slogged past them. We then spent quality time seated on a lobby bench while daughter Nancy remained through the first act. Mercifully, we left the confines of the theater before the second act and drove home.

My day for the Ahmanson routinely begins with a trip to Conejo Mountain Memorial Park to visit Ila in the cemetery section reserved for Jews. Authors of bereavement guides are quick to remind me that Ila really isn’t there under a blanket of Saint Augustine grass; rather, she lives in our memories. To which I respond…how do you know?

With ten dollars, I buy cut flowers at the Park office, picking a bunch that I think Ila will like. I arrive at the grave site and arrange the flowers in the container embedded at the foot of the grave. I clear some dead leaves from the site onto a currently unoccupied neighboring plot. I stand and look at the inscription on the grave marker…We love you up to the sky and beyond.  I speak to her and ask how she’s doing, knowing there will be no audible response. I remind her of my upcoming marriage to Jackie and I feel guilty. I remember the bereavement group facilitator saying that Ila would want me to be happy…and I wonder.

I place a small stone on the corner of the grave marker. I had carefully selected it from the array in front of the house. It was smooth, a pleasing brown color and about two inches in diameter. There are several Jewish theories why a stone is left behind. Flowers are rarely put on Jewish graves; I’m an exception. Flowers are impermanent while stones, like memories, are lasting. My personal belief is a bit selfish; it’s a tradition that tells others I was here.

I took a photo of the grave and the flowers. I take one during each visit. I occasionally send one to the kids with a note that tells them that Nana says that she loves you. Some I just keep in my iPhone memory, helping to keep track of my visits. I say good-bye and tell her that I love her.

On the way to my car I pass Naida’s grave. Naida and Ila shared illnesses, became an odd couple of fast friends, and now lie together twenty feet apart. I bid Naida good-bye but am out of stones.

It took thirty minutes to arrive at Nancy’s Calabasas home where coffee and deli stuff waited. Finished downing a combination sandwich of Gelson’s corned beef and hard salami, we left for the Ahmanson, got there with time to spare and, despite murmurs about the Corona virus, found a packed theater waiting to see The Book of Mormon. We had seen it years ago, and although laden with some embarrassment at its rapid-fire jokes about a little understood religion, had thoroughly enjoyed it the first time.

As usual, our seats were centered, ten rows back from the stage where the scenery was highlighted by a horn blowing statue of the angel Moroni calling people to the gospel of Jesus. Early in the performance, it became apparent that I needed more than a golden horn to hear the lyrics of the show’s now familiar tunes.

Although fitted with hearing aids, more than half of the spoken words were a great mystery to me. Laughter rose throughout the theater while I too often sat idly by wondering what was so funny. Nancy tried to lessen the impact of my affliction on my psyche by assuring me that she too could not understand everything. Yet whenever I leaned toward her and said, “What did he say?” she was able to tell me, albeit too late to enjoy that joke while the audience had moved on to another unintelligible phrase. Resigned to the inevitable, I sat back, clasped my hands in my lap and settled for half a loaf.

Like senses competing for attention, my eyesight in dimly lit settings is no better than my aging ears. As though encouraging pratfalls, the Ahmanson puts a half height step at the end of the darkened aisle and another one at the foot of the exit ramp. My recourse is to slowly shuffle my feet while seeking those challenging steps. I sometimes lose the contest and half hurtle forward into the waiting arms of a stranger.

My adventure with senescence continued after the play with a dinner trip to the Wood Ranch restaurant in Agoura. Once again, my reading skills were tested by a dimly lit environment intended to create a relaxing atmosphere for everyone other than Mr. Magoo. Although a light beamed from the ceiling, it focused like a laser beam on the tiny center of the table. It required that I lean forward with my elbows in the complimentary bread bowl to stand a chance of capturing some lumens.

Dinner conversation was highlighted by the possible whereabouts of my misplaced hat and concluded with the realization that I had lost my Visa card. Capping my Emmy winning performance, I gracefully rose from the table and unknowingly dropped two napkins from my lap onto the floor. Perhaps a bibb next time.

Nancy and Kevin were unwilling to allow me to go solo to locate my car for fear that I might be found at dawn, frozen in the parking lot. Better safe than sorry has become the law of the land. I drove home without causing a pile-up on the 101 and, displaying an as yet intact smidgen of independence, refused to call the kids to let them know I had arrived safely.

I suppose I enjoyed the play.

The Eyes Have It

It’s a good thing he liked baseball.

My father, Morris, was a victim of macular degeneration. Not the treatable kind, it slowly robbed him of everything but a bit of peripheral vision and the ability to discern light from dark.

He’d spend nearly all his time indoors in their West Rogers Park two-flat that my folks shared with my Uncle Max and Aunt Jenny. He avoided restaurants as though they served nothing but e-coli. A proud man, he felt embarrassed fingering the food on his plate in order to tell the difference between the mashed potatoes and the green beans. Unable to cut his brisket without the aid of a compass, he relied on my mother to create those bite sized pieces that somehow found their way onto his fork and into his mouth.

Until it too failed him, his limited peripheral vision allowed him to focus on a hand of cards in his weekly gin rummy game with Cousin Harry. The cards were large and he held them to the side of his face so he could see them. The game moved slowly but he never lost his card playing skills and managed to best Harry most weeks.

Morris wore bifocal glasses even when they were no longer of any help. He really couldn’t tell if the lenses were dirty but that made no difference to his penchant for keeping them clean. He ran through packs of Sight Savers, those crinkly two by three sheets of tissue that miraculously clean lenses without streaking or smudging. Now pre-moistened, they were originally dry. He kept a pack of them in his pants pocket and often used them despite being unable to view the results of his efforts.

He was a rabid White Sox fan and listened to Bob Elson and Harry Caray doing the play by play on the radio. But, even with his affliction he dearly loved watching the Sox on TV. We had an RCA console that sat on the living room floor. My father would drag a padded folding chair to within a foot of the screen and turn it sideways. He’d then position himself on the chair so that he could watch the TV through the corner of his right eye. Looking at him you might assume that he was ignoring the game.

Always a baseball fan, he had tried football and basketball when he was younger but found them wanting. Perhaps the complexity of football was too much for a former Ukrainian. Maybe basketball too infantile. Baseball was his milieu.

His peripheral vision was not without its limitations. He could not follow images on the screen if they moved rapidly; baseball delivered what he needed. Images that seemed to be stuck in place. Chunks of time between batters that accommodated his need to refocus. Trips by the catcher or manager to the mound that were performed without a hint of urgency. A never-ending array of statistics thrown at the viewer to fill the down time while the other objects on the screen got their act together. On Sundays a double header consuming as many as eight hours provided the stimulus that was otherwise absent for my father.

He knew all the players and the scores of yesterday’s games. He’d criticize plays on the field even though he probably didn’t see the play or the offender. He’d rag on me about the Cubs who hadn’t won a World Series since the Bronze Age. I felt his agony when the Sox blew one in the ninth inning. I occasionally pretended to share his joy when they came from behind and won the game.

My brother Irv suffered the same afflictions…being a Sox fan and having macular degeneration. Unless pushed, he avoided restaurants and their wide array of traps and pitfalls. He didn’t watch much TV and relied on audio books. He gave up golf when he couldn’t see the ball on the tee. I sat with him through every minute of the 2005 World Series when, after 88 years, the Sox won it in four straight over Houston, while my Cubs still languished in the Bronze age. He died before the Cubs won it in 2016 and I have never forgiven him.

I’ve never been as much of a baseball fan as they were. But since I share my genes with them, thoughts of macular generation occasionally enter my mind. Like the other night at the restaurant.

Nocciola is a high-end restaurant with prices to match. We hosted my daughter Nancy and my faux son-in-law, Kevin. A lovely setting, it was dimly lit. Menus of a weight befitting the restaurant’s stature were passed. My initial exploration of its Italian focused offerings revealed that the Italian names of dishes including Crescione, Quaglia, Plin and the one dedicated to Old Blue Eyes, Anatra, were large, bold and plainly visible. The English language describing the content of the dish was not. For all I knew I could have been reading the menu upside down. Fortunately, Jackie’s smart phone provided much needed light and I was able to avoid starvation.

The food arrived and my selection appeared to be floating at the bottom of a dark well. I told the waiter that I had hoped to enjoy a last meal before succumbing to hoof and mouth disease. Accordingly, it would be nice to see the food I was eating. A kindly soul, he elevated the lighting a few lumens and I was able to conclude the task at hand without the necessity of asking Jackie to cut my food.

When I was nearly finished, the lights dimmed. Perhaps the manager concluded that the old man had eaten enough to get the idea of where each element of the dish was located. And, not wishing to offend normally sighted guests, had returned the lights to their Devil’s Island setting.

It’s too bad I don’t like baseball.

I am my brother

My brother would have been ninety-three today.

Irv was born in 1927, two years before the Great Depression. I waited another twelve years for the economy to improve before emerging from my mother’s womb.

A twelve-year age difference was a bridge too far. We never played baseball together, developed sibling rivalry or did mischief that one would expect of brothers living in a Jewish ghetto on Chicago’s north side. I don’t know what he looked like as a teenager, nor do I remember hearing his voice echoing down the long wallpaper covered hallway in my parent’s second floor, two-bedroom apartment. I might as well have been an only child.

Lying about his age, Irv joined the army in 1944, never saw action but managed to develop a life-long relationship with tinnitus, one of several genetic dysfunctions that I shared with him. His army service was brief, some of it spent in Japan and Korea. He learned photography, took those skills home after the war and relied on them for years by chronicling life cycle events for others. I remember a picture of him in his army uniform and jauntily positioned cap. He was this handsome, bright-eyed guy who wore a natural smile as though it was ingrained in his DNA. He was better looking than me. People constantly mistook me for the older brother. He never corrected them.

He disdained the free college education offered to veterans, instead opting to get married, have children, divorce twice and finally land Jeri, the love of his life. In the early years, my parents were uncomfortable with Irv’s lifestyle, lent him money, but never offered advice that would have been immediately forgotten. Comparing me to him often led them to believe that I must be the older one.

At twelve, I baby sat for his daughter, Sharon. At seventeen, I regularly borrowed Irv’s Studebaker, that quirky looking, bullet nosed, dimly remembered two-door coupe with a stick shift. Four years later, he was in the bridal party that joined me with Ila. I still hardly knew him. Meaningful conversations were non-existent, and togetherness was largely a function left to family events to which he was usually late.

Irv’s second marriage was done on the rebound. Like the Studebaker, Anna-Marie was quirky. If he had asked me, I would have said don’t do it. But he didn’t ask, and life went on until the quirkiness lost its glamour.

Irv was a salesman who was honest and compelling. He sold mirrors, a process that was dependent on being invited into the customer’s home to measure walls and select styles. It was during one such adventure that he met Jeri, promised her unbounded love and did so for the rest of his life.

Ila and I moved to California and visited our Chicago relatives two or three times a year. My father became ill and was hospitalized. Irv was there to help our parents. It was as though he had turned a corner in his life, met his elder brother responsibilities, and took them on without looking back or complaining.

I was in California and of little help. My father died and our mother was alone. Irv visited her daily. He ran errands and delivered groceries for years until dementia took its toll on her. She entered a succession of facilities that included independent living, assisted living and fully assisted housing. Irv continued to watch over her while I made limited appearances. Her death finally freed him from responsibilities that he had willingly endured, while I continued to feel guilty by my self-limited role.

He aged and, like our father, developed macular degeneration. He gave up golf, driving, reading and other daily activities that we take for granted before they are taken from us. He needed assistance walking. His trips with Jeri to visit us in California became more difficult. During those trips he gradually displayed a loss of memory and an inability to perform certain functions. Sitting with him while he tried to add a column of numbers proved too much for him. He cried and I saw my brother in what had once been the role played by our mother.

The years he spent caring for our parents had also developed a closer bond between us. Our age difference now meant nothing. Conversations became more meaningful. Aging and illness were freely discussed. We looked at each other and knew what the other was thinking just by the expressions on our face, the tilt of our heads or the rolling of our eyes. We liked the same foods. We both lost our hair. Our laughs were identical. People still thought he was the younger one.

Luckily, I had chances to pay back the kindnesses that he had heaped on our parents. And I took them. I also aged alongside my brother and caught glimpses of what our parents must have suffered.

I look in the morning mirror and see Irv. I see his handsome, smiling face. But like Dicken’s Scrooge visiting the future, I also see what may yet come. I am concerned about my eyesight and daily test my ability to read road signs. I lay in bed in the early morning and silently count backwards from one hundred by seven; I dread making a mistake. I add columns of numbers without a calculator. I have more difficulty completing the New York Times crossword puzzle and wonder if maybe Will Shortz just made it tougher without telling me. I stupidly transform minor irritations into complicated medical cases that can only be treated at the Mayo Clinic.

I am becoming my brother… and I love him even though he will always look younger than me.

Happy birthday, Irv.

I nearly died

I nearly died.

I woke at 5 am, having been summoned by the alarm on Jackie’s iPhone. It’s both a blessing and a curse. Although I could sleep a bit longer, the too-early awakening lets me inhale the remains of last night’s memories before she leaves. If I’m lucky, I get a kiss before I brush my teeth.

A working girl, Jackie easily exits the warm bed, performs some rudimentary magic on her cute body and then heads into the darkness and drives to the athletic club. This inviolate routine brings her there precisely two minutes prior to its 5:30 am opening. She selects a parking space that might as well be reserved for her and assumes the prime position at the club’s front door. First in the gym is a badge of honor that she covets.

I, on the other hand, have not worked in twenty-one years and believe it is my right to sleep late. Not willing to flaunt or take advantage of my enviable position, I arise at 5:45am, toss the warm covers and immediately feel the stabbing chill of a house that has been deprived of fossil fuels for the last eight hours.

We have a treadmill, an elliptical, a stationary bike and a weight machine. Our third bedroom is devoted to these devices and, with its cool rubber flooring, looks like a display at a fitness store. A creature of habit, I disdain these home-bound devices and drive five minutes to the club where I socialize with others who habituate the establishment. I occasionally cross paths with Jackie, and proudly give her a kiss for all to see. I wish her well as she heads to her Pilates session, squeezes in an hour of hot yoga with twenty other female masochists, drives thirty miles to Camarillo and manages to get to work looking refreshed and radiant. I tire merely thinking about it and consider a nap.

I have a key-less locker at the gym that sets me back twelve dollars a month. An extravagance that could be avoided if I were willing to use an unassigned keyed locker. But that would require handing over my car keys to ensure that I return the locker key. It also means playing locker roulette since I would have a different, though indistinguishable, locker each day of the week. An exhausting thought.

My locker alienates me. It’s just a bit too small and, often without warning, regurgitates some of what I have put in it. Especially prone to this phenomenon is my shaving kit which seems intent on painfully landing on the toes of my left foot as it cascades to the floor.

I often prematurely lock it, requiring re-entry of the combination; something that I shall surely forget as I age. I have visions of marching bare-assed to the front desk to beg Erin for the now forgotten three numbers that will admit me to the locker and its assortment of clothing that will mask my embarrassment.

It accumulates unwanted items including a spare pair of ugly, baggy gym shorts, weight-lifting gloves that have their own sewn-in pain inducers and an orphaned metal shaving mirror that Jackie gave me two years ago. I dread discarding it for fear that she may one day ask about it.

As I put on my gym stuff, I banged my left index finger on the sharp edge of the locker door. Thinking nothing of it, I proudly walked without the aid of the railing, up the stairs to the treadmills. As I began my one-hour routine I noticed a drop of blood on my locker bitten finger. And then another drop. Was I going to bleed to death? I staunched the flow with an old used tissue that had resided peacefully in my shorts pocket. Gradually, thoughts of life’s passing cascaded through my mind.

Should I stop my routine and get some antiseptic from the front desk? Maybe a band-aid. Was this hole in my finger the easiest route for the Corona virus? Would I be the first in the county to be diagnosed with it? An eighty-year-old man close to death in the Ojai Valley Community Hospital. The club shut down tightly until everyone is screened. The media will have a field day. All that treadmilling, twice a week work outs with Robert, and healthy, tasteless food. All for naught.

Admit it. You’re a hypochondriac. The older we get, the more we see death in everyday events. The grim reaper standing ready to announce our demise without prior notice. Home in a two-bed window-less room, our last earthly habitat. Caregivers, friends and relatives tending to an almost lifeless body.

An insatiable desire for candy portends diabetes. A nagging cough, a symptom of tuberculosis. A momentary stab in the belly, stage four pancreatic cancer. A pink tint to your stool, hemorrhoids, colitis or worse. Feeling not quite right, kidney disease run amok. A headache, a debilitating stroke. Momentary tremor, Parkinson’s. A spot on the nose, malignant melanoma. My god, it’s a wonder we have time for anything else.

I gutted out the last forty-five minutes on the treadmill and thought about all the things that I had yet to accomplish. A promising life snuffed out by a locker door. Failure to take it seriously enough to seek emergency medical treatment. I could have asked Erin for a second opinion but was too proud to admit that I had ignored impending doom until it was too late.

I took a longer than usual shower. Shaved before the water could warm to conserve whatever time I had left on this earth. But then, dressing slowly, I figured why rush? It’s a done deal. The virus had already embedded itself. Whatever will be, will be. Take it like a man. Suck it up. Handle it with your usual grace and self-confidence. Nobody lives forever.

Then again, who says so?

Dinner and Beanies

Jackie had just put on her pajamas and covered herself with the old lumberjack smock that her mother had worn. No matter, she cannot hide her beauty and sexuality under frumpy clothing. But that’s a story for another day.

Settling down for a vegetable laden dinner, its preparation was interrupted by the phone. Sheila, who lives five walking minutes away, announced that her turkey meatloaf was about done, and would we like to come over to share it with her and Sid.

Sid was recovering from a confrontation with a chain link fence. No longer able to drive a car, he had adopted an electric scooter complete with a ten-foot high flag that announced his presence to those who shared the road with him. Ever the competitor, Sid roamed the streets of Ojai with little regard for his own safety. At ninety-one he was invincible and ready to take on those who might challenge him.

Unfortunately, Sid’s injuries were not caused by man. His attention had been diverted upon entering the Soule Park driveway. He had sideswiped the unyielding metal fence that lined the driveway and had been rewarded with cuts on both hands, requiring twenty-three stitches to staunch the bleeding.

Sheila is a habitual hostess. When Jackie responded to her turkey dinner invitation by suggesting they come to our house, I could visualize the somewhat bewildered expression on Sheila’s face. Taking a few moments to absorb this surprising change of plans, Sheila agreed to do the unexpected and promised to arrive around six, with the turkey and Sid.

Chilly evenings are the norm. We compensate by burning politically incorrect fossil fuel, and by donning multiple layers of the aforementioned frumpy garments. Sid has an insatiable appetite for heat and often wears those ubiquitous checkerboard nylon jackets that in some secret way contain body heat without any readily discernable goose down, wool or polyester. I have two, just in case.

Wearing tonight’s checkerboard jacket du jour, Sid’s arrival was punctuated by his announcement of “It’s cold in here, can we have some heat?” I dutifully added a degree or two by burning more than my daily allotment of fossil fuel. Sid found a comfy warm spot under a ceiling vent and looked as though he planned to remain there the rest of the evening. Fortunately, the heating system, having complied with the extra demands made of it, shut down leaving Sid with the job of discovering other places where heat might still be available.

Dinner went well. The turkey meat loaf exceeded expectations. Deigning the turkey, Jackie had her usual two cubic feet of salad. We all shared spaghetti squash, and Sheila and I polished off a very nice bottle of red wine whose gender and proper name is lost to me.

Sid was still cold when I noticed that his head was bare. Both of us are bald. Sid tends to cherish his remaining follicles while I mow them down without mercy. I learned at an early age that an uncovered bald head is the quickest way to chill the body. Maybe that’s why I have a gaggle of hats intended to limit the amount of heat that escapes me. Much of the hall closet is home to warm hats, especially those comfy wool knit beanies that can be found littering the Amazon website.

These are not your grandfather’s beanies. Ralph Lauren Polo, North Face and Lacoste have jumped into the market. Ranging in price from nine dollars to thirty-nine dollars, there’s a beanie for everyone’s head. My favorite brand is Carhartt because of its working man’s label and its generous helping of wool that allows me to pull my cap nearly down to my buttocks.

“Sid, why don’t you wear a hat.” I asked.

“I don’t like hats.” He responded.

I excused myself from the table and went to the hall closet. Kicking aside the beanie overflow that littered the floor, I selected one of my favorite Carhartts, a black beauty with Sid’s name written all over it.

Unwilling to take no for an answer, I stealthily approached Sid from the rear.  I quickly placed the beanie on Sid’s head, pulled it over the top quarter of his ears and adjusted its rakish angle to suit his face shape. He looked ten years younger and a lot cuter. The hat remained perched on Sid’s head for the rest of the evening and I quietly bumped the thermostat down two degrees.

I gifted the beanie to Sid, and he wore it home. Uncertain about its continued placement on my friend’s head, I wondered if this was just a one-off event.

Morning came and it was bright and chilly. I backed my car out of the garage and proceeded to the stop sign at the corner of Andrew and Daly. I looked left. I saw someone on a scooter heading up Daly Road. He had the right-of-way and I waited for him to pass. It was Sid with his ten-foot high flag.

And something else. A black Carhartt beanie perched rakishly on his head. It was going to be a warm day.


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