| March 21, 2012 | Comments (0)

Among my wide and far-flung circle of friends and acquaintances, I count people of all persuasions and talents, many multi-lingual, some hardly speaking any language intelligibly. These friends come in all sizes, shapes and colors. I have no strict requirement or standard for choosing friends. Unlike some people who only hang with latte liberals or right-wing conservatives, I can get along with any political stripe.

I remember when I lived in Bologna, Italy and was skinny and wore tight giglolo suits and orange socks, most of my friend were Communists; but then there was Franco. I adored Franco who happened to be a Fascist. Franco had two proclivities that fascinated me. He could not bring himself to use a public toilet and he worshipped the late dictator and loud mouth, Mussolini. On the matter of his aversion to public conveniences,  this presented grave practical  problems for Franco because he  could only succeed in relieving himself at home in the privacy of the family restroom. Since he worked at a pizzeria in the Bologna central train station and lived on the outskirts of town, there was a serious logistical  challenge to being on the job and heeding the call to relieve himself when nature beckoned.

Needless to say, Franco did not last long in his train station pizza job or any other position for that matter. Which left him more time for his weekly pilgrimage to Mussolini’s home town of Predapio where Mussolini’s widow, Dona Rachele still lived, existing very nicely, thank you, on her widow’s pension, the annuity given her for being the wife of an Italian civil servant, Il Duce.

But I do stray from my point which is: I like ALL sorts of people, the more unusual they are, the better. My penchant for off-beat folks often lands me in the bin with a bunch of eccentrics  some of whom might be considered loonies. I have one friend who is actually a rather brilliant writer but is mad as a hatter. This friend goes by the handle of Tonio Witters and loves practical jokes.  Some months ago, I began  receiving a spate of calls from heavy breathers, people I did not know, who proposed that I engage in unspeakable acts with them in louche venues like the Port Authority Bus Station Men’s Room. Acting on a hunch, I confronted Tonio Witters and he admitted, doubled over in gales of laughter, that he had written my name and telephone number on a number of public toilet walls advertising my willingness engage in the “sporting life.”  This reckless act of his put me in a great farouche and I did not speak to Witters for quite a long time. But I eventually forgave him because he is not boring. That is the one cardinal sin I cannot abide by: being boring.

Well, now that we have made crystal-clear what kind of people I like to hang with – and their association with toilets has NOTHING   to do with my liking them –  let me turn to a topic that IS boring: growing old and trying to cope with the slings and arrows that accompany decrepitude.

It all started back in the early 1970s when I was in my prime and hadn’t seen a doctor since my childhood tonsil removal. (Now a week doesn’t go by when I am not in some quack’s office here in New York City; the podiatrist, the urologist, the ENT clinic; the cardiologist, it just never ends.) And hadn’t saved a penny either. You must know that mindset governed by the insouciance  of youth when we never get sick and never think about money.

I was in South Thailand on a  field trip and was put up by the kindly Technical Advisor  whose project we were visiting. His bungalow was in the middle of a rubber plantation – our project was assisting the Thai Government in cultivation of that crop – and he was a Brit and his wife Chinese. Childless, they took a shine to me and treated me like the son they never had. Part of this affection took the form of giving me advice. On that particular evening after dinner, the topic was my need to plan ahead. As an example, Dr. Blencoe scooped up a copy of National Geographic Magazine from the coffee table, saying, “Samuel, you should plan AHEAD ! Take for instance this fine magazine. Did you realize that today you can start a lifetime subscription by paying a few hundred dollars and you will get a copy every month for the rest of your life ! That’s what we call PLANNING, my boy ! ” Despite my lack of attraction to a magazine that considered topics of little interest to me – re-creations of what dinosaurs must have looked like ten million years ago and photos of South Sea Island pygmies  engaged in rites of puberty – I expressed my gratitude for this sage advice and wrote a check on the spot, tucking it into an envelope with the subscription form. That was forty years ago and I have been receiving illustrated accounts of pygmies and dinosaurs on a monthly basis ever since.

Recently I have also been  receiving friendly queries from the administrative offices of National Geographic Magazine asking me how I am enjoying their publication. At first I was flattered that they would want my opinion about their august publication. Then I read their communication more carefully and noted the rather insistent tone that shouted at me from between the lines of their letter – get back to us because we want to know if you are still ALIVE ! We don’t want to waste  our magazine on a fucking corpse ! No, they didn’t use those words, but I got the message.

So I wrote back to them saying how much I enjoyed those pygmies and dinosaurs and how I hoped to keep reading about them for  MANY MORE  YEARS  TO  COME,  THANK  YOU! Ever since I started receiving these “are you enjoying our magazine” letters my vision of  National G has changed. When copies used to hit my doorstep every month, I perused the latest offering about pygmies and dinosaurs – or pirhanas and pirates – and thought of a magazine staffed with safari-suited explorers toting Haselblad cameras, negotiating treacherous rivers, confronting canabalistic primitives. Now I see them as narrow-eyed nerds poring over actuarial charts, following  graphs with red lines dipping towards the end of the diagram with projected  end-of-life-expectancies.

So much for those ghoulish nerds. I have consulted with my partner who is nearly twenty years my junior and we have agreed that I am NOT going to die. When I leave this life, as it were, he will continue to reply to queries from the National G Ghouls. saying that we are delighted with the continued coverage of pygmies, pirates and whatever creatures they will be featuring. Perhaps one day, fifty years from now when I will be 120 years old, they will be so amazed at my longevity that they will come to the South Bronx and do an article on me. We’ll deal with that scenario when it happens. In the meantime, life-long subscriptions pose no problem because we NEVER die !

The same thing goes for my pension. I receive a modest allowance from my former employer for suffering the slings and arrows of the work place for nearly 30 years. Annually, my employer sends me one of those hateful slit open along the dotted lines mailings. I am supposed to sign and return it to prove I am still alive, eligible to receive my pitiful stipend. I am instructed, if I am unable to actually sign it, that I can affix my fingerprint in the designated box. Next year I am thinking of trying something new. Instead of signing the damned thing, I will press my cat’s  paw to the page and imprint her consent to keep sending us the hand-out. Well, why not ? It pays for her food too.

And then there is the pickled finger option. A bit drastic, to be sure, but infinitely more foolproof  than tabby’s paw. It’s like this: a friend of a friend of a friend who lives in a not-to-be named Pacific Island nation that was once a Spanish colony and then a possession of the US, had an uncle who  worked for a certain international organization. Uncle Sancho retired, drawing a healthy pension that supported him and his extended family, which was most of his village. He lived to a ripe old age, but was eventually called to his maker. His great-grandchildren  mourned  his demise, but were even more depressed by the prospect of  the end of the pension gravy train.  But not to worry! Uncle Sancho’s clever third wife had forseen the need to validate his annual certification of still being VIVUS. Not one to dabble in such illegal chicanery as forging his signature, she hacked off his left thumb (he WAS left-handed, you see) and deposited the digit in a bottle of formaldehyde. Each February when the form letter arrives in the barrio, Uncle Sancho’s thumb is fished out of the bottle, tenderly dried off with a towel, brushed with  trace of blue ink – these days finding ink is not so easy ! who writes with an ink pen in this age of  ballpoints and  laptops ! – and pressed into the small square on the form designated for such  attestations. Now tell me – is this a clean-cut solution to a problem… or what?

And finally, before I sign off I want to inform you that I have been judged a “candidate.” A suitable candidate for a hearing device. “Candidate” is the current euphemism for: you ole fart, you can’t hear, you need a bloody hearing aid ! It may not surprise you to know that I am not  keen about hearing most of what is being said these days. Do you read me, Rush Limbaugh and Rick Santorum !

So I have prepared for my loss of hearing in what to me is the most satisfactory way. I have developed a kindly half-smile and a knowing nod. When people speak and I don’t hear them I put  this body language in motion and add  a murmur  or a cluck that might sound good.  How’s “Hmmm…!” to keep everybody happy !





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