The Pickup

During the years we owned a home in Florida, we used to comment on how fortunate we were to live in a retirement community where so many services were close at hand.  It truly was remarkable.

We benefited from facilities and utilities that we could have taken for granted.  We had running water, electric power, telephone and cable service, and internet availability.  We were close to medical and dental services, supermarkets and convenience stores, a volunteer emergency corps, and a fire department.

We had ready access to libraries, recreational facilities, and churches.  We were served by a thriving post office, a conscientious sheriff’s department, and many other organizations too numerous to mention.

We lived near five golf courses, all of which we could drive to in our own golf cart.

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We were, indeed, very fortunate.

However—there’s always a ‘however’ in these cases—there was one public service that caused me a great deal of difficulty.  It probably wasn’t their fault; in fact, it likely wasn’t anybody’s fault.  But it was one of those little vexations of life that seemed, at first, to be beyond fixing.

I’m speaking of the problems I had with my garbage.  The pickup never worked for me.  It used to be terrific to drop the plastic bags at the end of my driveway every Friday morning and forget about them.  A short time later, a big truck would crawl slowly and noisily down the street, swallowing the assorted bags that were tossed into its churning maw.  And the whole thing would be over for another week.

But then things changed, and I began to have a lot of trouble.  It started when the pickup service was moved to an earlier time of day for my street.  That truck began to show up before I woke up!

To solve that issue, I hit upon the idea of putting the bags out the night before.  That, I figured, would solve my dilemma with the early hour.  To my chagrin, it was just the beginning of a whole host of problems.

Whenever I put the garbage out the night before pickup, the scavengers got into it.  Four-legged critters, like coons and possum; two-legged critters, such as crows and seagulls.  When I would saunter to the street the next morning, after the truck had been and gone, I’d find remnants of the week’s malodorous garbage strewn across my grass.

worlds-cutest-raccoons-22

I tried all manner of schemes to put a stop to this.  It was amazing how ingenious, and devious, an old guy like me could become when I had to stoop over to scoop up garbage that I had already packed up for pickup!

In order to foil the two-legged critters, I began to wait until just before my bedtime to put out the garbage, after they were safely in their nests.  To prevent the four-legged critters from continuing their raids, I scattered pellets, sprayed foam, and sprinkled red pepper around the bags—but all to no avail.

Once, to my undying shame, and well after dark, I even resorted to putting my garbage bags across the street, on my neighbour’s driveway.  The next morning, there was half the load, spread across his grass.

And it didn’t really change anything, anyway, because when I went over to clean it up, I encountered him in the middle of the street.  He was on his way to pick up the spillage from the bags he had left on my driveway!  The bounder.

After a bothersome few months, I reached the stage where I realized I wasn’t putting out garbage; rather, I was making an offering to the critters from hell!

But, wonder of wonders, I eventually solved the riddle.  Looking back on it, I can’t believe it took me so long to come up with such a creative solution.  It certainly would have relieved me of a bunch of worry.

It finally dawned on me that on every warm, Florida Friday morning, garage sales and yard sales were endemic to our community—every neighbourhood, every street.  And hundreds of people—rich, poor, young, old, women, men—prowled the area in their vans and station wagons.

garage sale

So, from that point on, I would clamber out of bed every Friday at a reasonable hour, tie off my garbage bags with pretty, colorful ribbons, and drop them at the end of my driveway, with a big sign on them: FREE.

The bags were gone before I could finish my first cup of coffee!

 

 

Who Said That?

For several years, I’ve had a brilliant idea for a word-game bouncing around in my head.  Given my general laissez-faire attitude in my retirement years, however, I’ve done nothing about it.

And that’s a shame, because the more I think about it, the more convinced I am it could be a sure-fire hit.  Like when the original Trivial Pursuit first burst upon the scene, or Scrabble, or Hangman, or Words with Friends, to name a few.

scrabble

The game—in the multi-platform age we live in—can be marketed as a traditional board-game, or as a digital game adapted to computers and laptops.  It can feature competitive matches with others, or a self-play mode for those uncomfortable with universal play.  It can have different levels of skill to accommodate players with varying levels of language fluency.  It can have focused versions for different age-groups.  It can be issued in as many languages as the global market will bear.

But wait, there’s more!  So successful could it be that a television show might eventually be based upon it, like Jeopardy, for instance.  Featuring both celebrity and everyday contestants, all vying to claim supremacy, the TV version could reinvigorate the public’s interest in language and history, spurring us on, perhaps, to a new golden age of literacy.

255px-Jeopardy_game_board

The only reason I’m revealing my idea here is that I remain unlikely to pursue it by myself.  Too much work for one my age.

Actually, there is a second reason:  I’d love to entice someone to follow through on the project—partnering with me, of course, with copyright reserved to me; financing the start-up costs; doing the bulk of the work; but with all profits shared equally.

Sounds beguiling, don’t you think?

The game, as I envisage it, will be called Who Said That?  Playing in turn, each player will draw a card (if playing the board-game version), or click on a tab (in the digital version), to reveal an excerpt of a famous quotation; for example:

I don’t want to belong to any club…

If the player can successfully complete the expression, (s)he will receive the number of points ascribed to the difficulty of the quotation.  And, as a bonus, if the player can identify the person who first uttered the expression, (s)he will earn an additional two points, and may take a second turn before the next player plays.  If a particular quotation has no attributed author, Anonymous becomes an acceptable answer.

Because some quotations have been reported slightly differently, or translated from other languages, some latitude in the exactness of the answers may be allowed by players; the objective is to most accurately complete the expression.

The two answers in the aforementioned example are:

I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member; the speaker was Groucho Marx, an American actor, comedian, and television star.

groucho

Pretty simple concept, I think, but not so easy to navigate successfully.

Now, before deciding whether or not you wish to become an investor in this can’t-miss undertaking, you might want to try the game yourself.  Here are six questions of varying levels of difficulty, but all requiring high-school competency in language and history.  Answering all of them correctly, and identifying the speakers, will earn you thirty points.

  1. Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day… 1 point
  2. Even if you’re on the right track… 3 points
  3. Never interrupt your enemy… 4 points
  4. If you are going through hell… 3 points
  5. Sometimes the questions are complicated… 2 points

And my favourite,

  1. The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas… 5 points

Try to answer these questions before checking the answers below.

 *  *  *  *  *  *  *

How many quotations could you accurately complete?  How many of the speakers could you identify?  And how many points were you able to earn?  Now, check the answers to find out:

  1. …teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.   Anonymous
  2. …you’ll get run over if you just sit there.   Will Rogers
  3. …when he is making a mistake.   Napoleon
  4. keep going.   Churchill
  5. and the answers are simple.   Dr. Seuss
  6. …in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.   F. Scott Fitzgerald

I could lie and claim I earned thirty points, but that would be unfair; after all, I framed the questions.  In truth, I might have earned seventeen points, had I been playing as you were.

If any of us were playing online, and after we had the correct answers revealed, we could quickly search the internet for more information on the speakers.  This game could be such a marvellous learning tool, as well as entertaining for all ages.  A sure-fire winner!

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So, in conclusion, let me address the financing and partnership aspects of the project.  In order to avoid my having to peruse long lists of prospective investors, it would be best  (assuming you are interested) to send along a comprehensive financial disclosure statement to me at your earliest convenience.  Rest assured, it will be held in the strictest confidence….or, perhaps I should say privacy.

You know, I’m sure, that this is not a confidence game!

Nuclear Flushin’

On a long-ago Saturday morning, musing over a cup of tea, I came to a mind-altering realization.  My entire family, except for me, was in the bathroom.

Not the same bathroom, of course, for we had three in our house back then.  But that insight sparked an idea, a theory, as to why we’re witnessing a change in the traditional family structure in our North American society.

I knew immediately that if I were ever to present my idea to a United Nations Conference on the Family, for example, it would be extremely well-received—probably heralded as a major breakthrough—because I felt it would answer a question that has plagued sociologists and urban-planners for a very long time.

Why are we experiencing such a major shift in the traditional social patterns of our society, most specifically in the so-called, nuclear family?

Before revealing the disquieting answer, I should provide a little background.  The nuclear family, until not so very long ago, had been the fundamental element in the fabric of our culture.  It consisted of a nucleus, usually two parents, and several particles orbiting the centre, those being the children.  Like the atom, to which it bears a resemblance in diagram-form, the nuclear family had long been considered virtually unbreakable.

atom3

But in the 1940’s, we learned (perhaps to our sorrow) that we were wrong about the atom; it could, indeed, be split.  The nuclear age dawned on an unsuspecting world when physicists discovered the means to do that.  Our whole existence was altered with the advent of nuclear fission.

In a similar way, with perhaps more profound consequences, the nuclear family has begun to split during the past few decades.  Several theories have been published over time which attempted to explain the reasons for this, but not one of them has managed to find the true cause.

Now, at last, I have it, and I’ve christened it nuclear flushin’.

As with so many major discoveries, the answer, once known, is relatively simple.  The fragmentation of the nuclear family in North America has been accelerated by the proliferation of a phenomenon known as ensuite bathrooms!

ensuite

Don’t believe me?  Well, think about the home you live in now, or about the homes where your friends live.  In all likelihood, regardless of the size of the house, or its style or its layout, there is more than one bathroom.  There’s an excellent chance, particularly if the house was constructed during the late 1970’s or later, that ensuite bathrooms are connected to one or more of the bedrooms.  And that’s in addition to a main bathroom and a two-piece powder room.

Now compare this with the home you lived in with your parents (or where they lived with their parents), and you may begin to see what changes the ensuite bathroom has wrought.

Once upon a time, in a typical family of five or six, the average morning witnessed a grand reunion before breakfast.  Everyone gathered in or near the one bathroom in the house.  The daily rituals of bathing, shaving, brushing teeth, combing hair, and other such essentials were performed to the accompaniment of cries to hurry and demands to share the mirror.  In my family, one was seldom alone with one’s ablutions; and woe betide anyone who tried to lock the door!

One of the beneficial effects of this shared intimacy was that the various members of the family came to appreciate how much we were alike.  Few secrets existed among four children sharing a tub!

kids in tub

I first became aware that there must be more than just physiological differences between the sexes when my brother and I, for reasons we didn’t fully understand at the time, had to wait until our sisters were out of the tub before we could get in.  And I still remember how the two of us would pee in the bath, laughing giddily at fooling our father, who’d have his hands in the water while scrubbing us.  Duh!

But that was once upon a time.  Today, we’re all encapsulated, cut off from one another, no longer sharing our most natural activities.  Each morning, we emerge from our bedrooms-with-ensuite-bathrooms, sparkling-clean and perfectly-groomed.  None of us ever sees the others as we really are, and so we do not appreciate how much alike we are.

Today, it seems to me, everyone is preoccupied with personal space, privacy, and rights—all of which emphasize our differences.  And that, I submit, is why the nuclear family is disintegrating.

Eventually, I’ll commit my theory to paper (not of the toilet variety), with innumerable citations and references to support my thesis.  And when the opportunity arises, as I’m sure it will, I’ll truly enjoy presenting it to the United Nations.

I still need time to really flesh out the details, however, to think the idea through more carefully.  But the wonderful thing is, I have the chance to do that, in glorious solitude, in my own ensuite bathroom!

privy

And you’re among the first to know!

 

 

 

Survival-Skiing

Every winter for quite a number of years, my wife and I used to head north, without the kids, for a weekend of cross-country skiing.  But as I think back now on those long-ago days, for the life of me I can’t figure out why.

In the first place, we weren’t off to a palatial, resort lodge with all its pampering amenities.  Rather, it was one of the provincial government’s natural resources centres, a rather Spartan setting in the deep woods.

ski-centre

We shared a bedroom there, in one wing of a large dormitory where thirty other couples inhabited bedrooms of their own.  Our room, approximately three metres wide, had a narrow cot mounted on each side wall.  There was room for only one person on each bed—not exactly conducive to second-honeymoon flights of fancy.

On the outside wall, there was a large, frosted window; light leeched in, but no one could see out.  At the end of each bed, near the window, a number of ill-fitting drawers were built into the wall.  There was no closet.

I had lived in student residences that were more luxurious.

One large bathroom, complete with three shower stalls, served all the men on our floor, as well as the men from upstairs.  A similar bathroom, designated for the women, was situated on the second floor.  Woe betide the morning-drowsy lodger who mixed up the two.

Consequently, unlike the apres-ski gatherings at luxurious ski-lodges, our social exchanges tended to occur early in the morning and late at night, as we passed everyone else on the way to and from the bathrooms.

Our friends used to wonder why we kept going back.  And we’d tell them it was because of the excellent skiing; however, that’s only partially true.

The skiing was very good—endless groomed trails curving through boreal forests, the sun streaming through skeletal trees, casting crooked, blue-grey shadows across the pristine snow.

winter-woods

As a skier, though, I left a little to be desired.  My problems always started in the waxing-room, where everybody gathered after breakfast to prepare their skis for that day’s snow conditions.

Each of the four or five people I’d check with would be using a different colour of wax.  So, to be on the safe side, I’d use them all, resulting in a rainbow of colours on the bottom of my skis.  Occasionally, someone would call out that we should be using klister.  Assuming that klister was a preparation for use on one’s blisters from the previous day’s outing, I always chose to ignore that advice.  I was no sissy!

While the others laboured away indoors, I would head outside and plant my feet securely into the harness on my skis.  Stamping impatiently in the cold, waiting for the others while watching my breath dissipate in frosty wisps, I’d often experiment a bit.  For example, I would try to turn around in place by lifting one ski over the other, and setting it down in the opposite direction.  The manoeuvre could then be completed by pushing the second ski back and out to one side, toe down, to bring it around in line with the first.  It looked so cool when other people did it.

Predictably, however, I usually lost myself in this complicated operation and found I was unable to move my feet because of the skis they were trapped in, one facing forward, the other backward.  Powerless to extricate myself, I’d resort to falling face-forward into the snow from a standing-still position.

Once rescued and set upright, my adventures would continue on the trails, where, thanks to the plethora of wax I had applied, I could find no purchase.  On downhill slopes, I bounced and careened, verging on the out-of-control, until a friendly sapling would reach out to embrace me, interrupting my headlong rush to oblivion.  My companions always insisted I go first on these downhills, which I interpreted as a testament to my intrepid spirit.  Those sharp turns at the bottom were brutal, though.

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The cohort began to refer to me (flatteringly, I wanted to think) as a bushwhacker.

On uphill stretches, I would slide inexorably into the folks skiing behind me, my once-but-no-longer-friendly comrades.  When they eventually demanded I go last on the uphills, I blithely assumed they wanted me there to be of assistance to any who faltered.

My eventual return to the dormitory was always heralded by one and all as a triumph of random chance over probability.

So, as you can see, it wasn’t the austere accommodation or my skiing prowess that brought me back each year to that wilderness outpost.  I may have been inept [ed. note: was definitely inept], but I was never an ascetic masochist!

I suppose it was the other things we found there that kept us coming—things like good friends (they’re the ones who hadn’t yet skied behind me), bountiful and delicious food, and a time to be alone with one another—even if in separate beds.

I always looked forward to going on those survival-skiing trips—although I must admit I was equally glad when it came time to head home.  I sometimes wish I could still strap myself in to those fibreglass wings and fly away, happy once again to lose myself on the wintry forest trails.

Alas, I fear now that the only thing I’d lose would be my life!

My Emergency Room Visit

I had occasion recently to visit a friend in hospital, a spanking-new facility in our community.  I had no trouble parking, finding the elevators, or locating his room, and we enjoyed a half-hour or so of conversation before I left.

It was quite a contrast to what I had experienced a year or so earlier, when I paid an unexpected visit to the emergency department of the old hospital, a facility reminiscent of the dark ages of medicine.

emergency-room_265898

My wife was away for the weekend with friends, and I was home alone.  That in itself is never a good idea.

While attempting to open a can with our idiot-proof can-opener, I managed to slice my index finger rather badly.  When my muddling efforts to stanch the bleeding were unsuccessful, I decided—very reluctantly, mind you—to drive myself to the hospital to have the injury stitched.

With a gauze wrapping the size of a small fist encasing my finger, I managed to make the trip without incident.  Not having needed emergency care for quite some time, however, I’d forgotten how long such a simple first-aid procedure could take.

The first clue that I might be in for a long stay came when I had to wait for a spot in the emergency parking lot.  The guard on duty wouldn’t let me in until a metered space opened up, despite my wagging my mangled finger at him.  That word—emergency—takes on a whole new meaning when one enters upon hospital property; Hurry up and wait might best describe what I was about to endure.

Once I finally got the car parked, I had to find the parking meter (at the far end of the lot from where I was, of course!), fumble some coins into it, then trudge back to the car to place the parking pass on the dashboard.  I might have been whimpering softly by this point, although I can’t be certain.  I next proceeded to the emergency room entrance, following the brightly-coloured signs with their pointing arrows, and limped up to the reception desk.

I’m not sure, looking back, why I was limping; after all, it was my finger I had injured.  Perhaps I was subconsciously trying to influence the admissions staff to whisk me right through.  I could almost hear the PA system blaring forth:

Prep the O.R. immediately!  This patient has a severe digital incision requiring prompt attention.  Alert the trauma unit!  We’re on our way up!

Hah!  Faint hope!  I leaned on the reception desk, moaning strategically, waiting for the receptionist.  She was on the telephone, apparently fighting to get off, but losing.  Finally, to my delight, another woman came behind the counter, set down the coffee and bun she was carrying, and approached me.

“Last name?” she inquired.

“Burt,” I responded.  “I’ve cut my finger pretty badly on a tin can, and I can’t get the bleeding…”

“Take a seat,” she interjected, indicating a row of chairs to my left with a jerk of her head.  I meekly joined the other eight or nine folks already sitting there—none of them, to my eye, as much in need of help as I.  Every few minutes, just to emphasize that point, I groaned audibly.

During the next forty-five-or-so minutes, every one of them was called into one of two small cubicles, behind a curtain.  I never saw anyone emerge.  But I was impressed with the efficiency of it, even ‘though I had to wait quite a while to be included.

When I finally heard my name, I smugly entered a cubicle ahead of the people who had arrived after me, every one of them fixing me with a malevolent stare for having the nerve to think I was in greater need than they.  Inside, I was told to sit down in front of a large computer screen.  A different woman sat opposite me.

“Proof of health insurance?” she asked.  “Been treated here before?”

“Yes,” I whined, “but it’s out in the car.  In my wallet.  I don’t think I’ve been in here before.”

“We’ll need it,” she said.

Slowly and somewhat resentfully, I carried my sore finger all the way back to the parking lot to fetch my wallet.  Then I trudged back to the cubicle.  By now I was limping even more noticeably.  Of course, someone else was now inside with the woman and her computer, so I had to wait my turn once more.

At long last, I made it through the data collection process and was ushered through the rear door of the cubicle to what I hoped was the treatment room.  Alas!  It was another, larger, waiting-room, and the whole world, it seemed, was ahead of me.  Including some of the people who had apparently resented me earlier, now happy they had passed me in line.

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Three magazines, two washroom breaks, and one half-cold cup of coffee later, I was called into an honest-to-goodness treatment room.  After sitting on the padded table for a quarter-hour, trying not to wrinkle the protective paper pulled over top of it, I finally decided to lie down.  Precisely at that point, a doctor (I greatly hoped) bustled in, scanned my data sheet, donned her latex gloves, then removed the sodden wrapping I had been clutching around my wound.

“Do you need this finger?” she asked abruptly.

“Do….do I need it?” I croaked in horror.

“No, no, no.  I mean, do you need it for your work?  What sort of work do you do?  We can freeze it and stitch it if you need your finger; otherwise, we’ll clean it, glue the skin, and tape it for you.”

My relief was palpable.  All my anger and frustration at having waited an eternity vanished in a flash.  I was so grateful she was going to save my finger, I was seized by an impulse to hug her.

But she wasn’t there long enough for me to act on it.  In not much more than five minutes from the time she’d entered, I was all taped up.  And the bleeding had stopped.

“Good to go,” she said, “unless that limp is a problem.”

“Uh, no, it’s not,” I quickly replied.  “It’s really nothing.”

In no time at all, I was outside on the way to my car.  And to the parking ticket on the windshield, reminding me that I had stayed too long!

 

The F-Word

Years ago, when our two daughters were still in elementary school, my wife and I encountered a moment of truth with them—one of those things that never seems to arise in the privacy and sanctity of one’s own home.  Children are too diabolical to let that happen.

We were out for dinner, treating them to a white-tablecloth dinner in a fine restaurant in our neighbourhood.  Part of our strategy to introduce them to the niceties of life, we hoped it also would serve as an opportunity to educate them in the proper manners and etiquette such occasions demanded.  No other children were present, and I smugly complimented myself on the loving family picture we must have presented.

family-eating

Our table sat amidst several others, nicely spaced, but close enough to require moderated tones while speaking.  We all had ordered, the girls speaking directly with the server, being sure to say please and thank you as required, and the evening was going splendidly.

Then my eldest daughter dropped the bomb.

“Daddy,” she said (more loudly than necessary, it seemed to me), “what does the f-word mean?”

Even as the blood rushed to my ears, it couldn’t drown out the sound of dropped cutlery clattering on plates from the tables around us.  I resisted the urge to check how many pairs of eyes must be staring at us.

“What?” I said, stupidly, since the last thing I wanted was for her to repeat her question.

“I said, what does…”

“I heard you, I heard you,” I interrupted.  “Please lower your voice.”

No one spoke for a moment or two.  Our fellow-diners appeared to resume their own conversations, though hoping, I was sure, to hear how I might respond.

My wife was the first to break the silence.  “What f-word?” she asked.  “There are a lot of words starting with ‘f’.”

I stared at her, aghast.  What could she be thinking?  Surely she didn’t want our daughter to say the word out loud in a crowded restaurant.

The two girls glanced sidelong at each other, almost furtively, nervous smiles on their faces.  The youngest shrugged her shoulders slightly.

“Umm, I guess I forget the word,” the eldest replied.

“That’s okay,” my wife said nonchalantly.  “But if you think of it another time, you can ask us again.”

I breathed a sigh of relief, grateful for my savvy wife’s realization that such a sweet child would be unwilling to actually utter the word.

Emboldened by her success, I added bravely, “Yeah, and when you tell us the word, we’ll tell you what it means.”  I immediately winced from my wife’s kick under the table.

The rest of the meal passed in peace as we engaged in casual conversation, laughed at the girls’ stories of their activities at school, and discussed our choices for dessert.  But just as our selections were served, my daughter spoke up again.  Too loudly again.

“Daddy, I remember the f-word!”

I dropped my spoon, splattering chocolate pudding on my tie.

“The…the what?” I uttered lamely, dabbing at the stains with my napkin, spreading them wider.

“The f-word,” she repeated.  “You said if I could remember it, you’d tell us what it means.”

My wife smiled sweetly, abandoning me to the course I had set myself.

Stalling for time, I surveyed the room around us, noting how people quickly averted their gazes.  One or two appeared to be laughing into their napkins.

“Yeah, okay,” I finally said.  “I guess I did.  But when you tell me, talk quietly.  We don’t want to bother other people, right?”

She nodded solemnly.

“So, what’s the word?” I heard myself ask, confident now that I could handle this.  I was beginning to feel like SuperDad.

superdad

With another glance at her sister, my daughter blurted out, “Fart!”

“Fart?” I echoed, hearing the now-audible laughter from other diners.  My relief about the choice of word was immense, given the alternative, but not for long.  “Where did you hear that word?”

“At school,” she replied.  “Lots of kids say it.”

I realized that now my wife, too, had her face buried in her napkin.

“Oh,” I said, trying to maintain some semblance of control of the situation.  “Well, fart is not a word that nice people like us use.”

“Yeah, but what does it mean?” my daughter persisted.

“Well…it refers to…to the gas…you know…the smell that sometimes comes from your bottom.  When you’re sitting on the toilet, for instance.”

With a shriek of laughter, my youngest daughter cried, “Oh, I get it!  When you do it, it makes a loud noise, and you call it a tinkie, Daddy.  Right?”

Blushing furiously now, I said, “Right, right.  But that’s just what we call it in our family.  Not everybody calls it a tinkie.  Probably every different family has their own word for it.”

There followed another few moments of silence at our table, save for my wife’s choked chuckles into her napkin.

“But Daddy,” my eldest daughter said, “if we say tinkie to anybody else, they won’t know what we mean.  Does that mean we should say fart?”

“No,” I replied firmly, “you should not say fart.  You should probably not talk about it at all.  But if you have to say something, just say passing gas.  That’s all it really is, anyway.  Nice people don’t say fart.”

And that was the end of it.  Both girls seemed satisfied, and it didn’t come up again.

On the way out—with me clutching my jacket closed to hide the chocolate smear on my tie—we passed a table where a neighbour from our street was sitting with his wife.  I nodded politely, hoping to avoid any embarrassing conversation.  But I had to stop momentarily when he held up his hand, then beckoned me closer.

“Tinkie?” he said.

I fled.

The Better I Was

At threescore-and-ten years of age, plus a few, I am no longer cavorting on ice-rinks and athletic fields-of-play with the same wild abandon that characterized my youth.  Not even close.

My ice-hockey skates have lain, undisturbed for lo, these many years, in a box in my storage locker.  My inline skates were recently given to my grandson, whose feet, amazingly, have grown to my size.  And my baseball gloves (the ‘relic’—floppy, scuffed, and worn; and the ‘newbie’—still-shiny, with a lovely, leathery smell) lie beside each other on a shelf I never look at.

My competitive pursuits these days consist of golf (from the forward tees), tennis (‘doubles’ only), and snooker (on tables with oversized pockets).  My comrades and I—no longer so quick, strong, and skilled as once upon a time—are unhurried, more frail, and prone to error now.  And that’s on our good days!

snooker

I’m sure the same refrain runs through their minds, as through mine: O, how the mighty have fallen!

Not that I was ever that mighty, mind you.  The visions of grace and glory ever running through my youthful head were more likely delusions of grandeur.  And the triumphs I always looked forward to were more often trials and errors.

It might have been said about me at various times over the years (snidely, of course, by persons with varying degrees of sensitivity) —

  • He’s a legend…..in his own mind.
  • He’s not as good as he once was; but he might be as good once as he ever was.
  • He’s not a has-been; he’s a never-was!

However, the one I deem most accurate, given my propensity for self-aggrandizement, is probably—

  • The older he gets, the better he was!

That one comes closest to the truth.  When I absolutely ‘crush’ a drive off the tee now (which is rare, and which means about 150 yards), I bemoan the fact that I used to regularly hit it almost twice as far.  Not true.

golf

When I double-fault into the net at a crucial point in the match (which is not-so-rare), I protest that I used to reliably smash aces past my opponents.  Also not true.

And when the cue ball ricochets off the ball I intended to sink, and itself literally leaps into the pocket (which is often), I smack my forehead and exclaim, “What a fluke!  I used to make those shots all the time!”  But I didn’t.

It strikes me that the phrase ‘I used to…’ is a prominent part of my conversation these days.

I suppose it’s a form of self-defence to claim a level of excellence that never truly existed, an attempt to ward off the all-too-obvious failings of the flesh brought on by rapidly-advancing years.  Even more fragile than my aging body, after all, is my vaunted male ego.  Yet sadly, the first gives out before the second.

I recall a computer-translation into Russian of the old saying, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  When a Russian-speaking person was asked to re-translate it to English, it came out as, “The wine is good, but the meat is rotten.”

Exactly how I feel!

wine2

Still, I continue to declaim the glories of my yesteryears to all who will listen (the number of whom is fewer and fewer all the time, I am noticing).  I am out there whenever I can be—on the golf course, at the tennis court, around the snooker table—rarely winning at the games, but always seeking the former stardom I pretend to remember.

“The important thing is not who wins,” I try to tell myself.  “It’s who shows up to play.”

And strangely, the showing up is somehow made easier by a still-burning desire to do better next time, to improve, to regain the degree of mastery (illusory, I know) once taken for granted.

After all, the older I get, the better I…..well, you know.