If, as was established in the Tao of Steve, the worst kind of fatist is a fat fatist, then by extension I’m the worst kind of ageist, an old one. My shameful ageist rant is buried after the break for those of you who are easily offended.
My next-door neighbor in a woman in her 80s who, after being widowed a couple of years ago, is living alone in her large suburban tract home with a fairly steep driveway. While her husband was ill, I helped them out, and now one of my missions in life, right after keeping liver failure at bay, is to stop her from breaking her hip on that goddam driveway. The task is made a little more difficult because she and her husband had an old-school marriage: she did the inside work, and he did the outside work, which means that she has no decent outdoor clothes, because her main outdoor time with her husband was the few seconds it took to traverse the distance between the back door and the car. After his passing, her tottering 80 foot trip down the driveway is usually accomplished in a pair of practical yet attractive flats that are suitable for everyday wear as well as a casual night out with her lady friends.
Even though this woman has my home phone number and my cell number, it would take an act of God and Congress for her to call me for help. She’s very appreciative when I bring up her mail, shovel her driveway or take her recycling out, but no matter how many thousand times I’ve told her that I’ll do it for her, if I don’t do it the minute it can be done, her 98 lbs of little old lady bone, sinew and pure bullheadedness is headed down that fucking driveway, and damn the weather. That’s how I found her the other night, when I was running a little late to pick up her mail. She was shuffle-stepping down the driveway with her big, full, heavy recycle tote, during a windstorm, in about 30 degree weather, no coat, and wearing those goddam useless shoes. She looked pretty relieved when I got her tote and took it to the curb and she did take my arm to go back up the hill, but her fear will be forgotten the next time I’m 10 minutes late to fetch her two catalogs and three pieces of junk mail from the mailbox. There’s no force on earth that can stop her latest attempt to make herself another entry in the actuarial tables by taking a trip to the mailbox in a goddam snowstorm.
And, no, she’s not demented, far from it. She’s got full command of her faculties, she’s just stubborn, just like my old man. He’s 82, and on the same night that I met my neighbor on her driveway of doom, he called me to place an Amazon order (he won’t touch a computer) and to grudgingly inform me about his latest health issue. My general impression of his health is that it’s pretty good but that’s all the self-report of a retired doctor who spins his health the way Frank Luntz spins a focus group. His main health issue is irregular heart rhythms. He’s seemingly had every one except asystole, including A-fib and SVT, which to hear him tell it are as common and innocuous as an upper respiratory infection or a shaving cut. His latest one is a form of PVC called quadrigemy, or, as he calls it, “nothing serious”. It was so non-serious that his doctor (Google “poor bastard” to find his picture) had him wear a Holter monitor, a device that records a days worth of heart rhythms. My dad took that as a challenge to do as much physical activity as possible while wearing it, so he regaled me with tales of how much snow he shoveled in the 8 degree weather they’re having, so much that he thinks he “blew the thing [Holter monitor] up”.
He may be right, because he still hasn’t gotten the test results back. My brother talked to him last night because the old man, who’s a big liberal, was working on another letter to the editor and needed some gun violence statistics. (I’m the Amazon customer service rep this week, my brother does the same job for Google.) My brother reported that Dad was a little concerned because the delay in getting results might be an issue for “those people” who have a serious heart problem, i.e., not him.
The notion that age “mellows” people, whatever that means, is nothing more than a sentimental lie. These two octogenarians are as stubborn at 80 as they were at 50, or 30, if not more so. My old man will probably drop dead while out shoveling snow in ten below weather or mowing his hilly lawn with a push mower in the 100 degree heat just to prove that “my heart is fine”. One of these days I know I’ll walk around the corner to find my neighbor dressed in a tasteful wool sweater set circa 1978, with matching flats, lying in a snowbank, in a blizzard, having fallen during her hurried quest to retrieve the latest Miles Kimball catalog from her mailbox. That’s just how it’s going to be and there’s not a goddam thing I can do or say to stop it.