Friday, February 23, 2024
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The number is 78

By Tony Deyal

A 78-year-old man was working out in a gym when he spotted a sexy young woman. He asked his trainer, “What machine should I use to impress a girl like that?” The trainer replied, “I would try the ATM in the lobby.” I will be 78 next Thursday and I no longer have a New Balance, Adidas, or even a Saucony like my female gym teacher.

The only trainers I possess (or possess me) are my wife and children as well as some of my favourite advisors from my books. One wrote that there are four stages to old age. You forget names. You forget faces. You forget to zip up and you forget to zip down. There is a fifth. Having forgotten completely whether he had zipped up or down, the 78-year-old man let loose in front of people with stunned faces and they called him many four-letter names.

One of the great comedians, Groucho Marx, immediately became my hero when he made it clear, “A man is as old as the woman he feels.” However, my wife very quickly cured me of that. Fortunately, I am not yet as bad as the three 78-year-olds who had just got their monthly pension and decided to walk to the bus stop. The first one said, “Windy, isn’t it?” The second one corrected him, “No, it’s Thursday.” The third responded quickly, “So I am. Let’s go for a beer.” Milton Berle, another of my favourite comics, made me understand that when a man my age orders a three-minute egg, the waitress should ask for payment upfront. There are other things you learn by the time you reach 78 and counting.

First, as we age, we sleep more soundly. But that is usually in the afternoon or while driving a car on the highway. Next, even though life begins at 40, by the time you reach 78 every part of you seems to have fallen out, extended and expanded out, and you are left, right and centre totally worn out. Luckily for me, I found my copy of “What’s in an Age” and dived into 78 for some good news.

Women seem to be better at dealing with 78 than men. Eleanor of Acquitane led an army to crash a rebellion by her grandson, Arthur the Duke of Brittany, against her son and the boy’s father, John the Kind of England. American artist, Georgia O’Keeffe, after flying in airplanes, painted one of her best works, SKY ABOVE CLOUDS IV. The woman known as Grandma Moses (who lived to 101) was an American folk artist who began painting in earnest at the age of 78. She is considered a prominent example of a newly successful art career at an advanced age. Me, at this age I already catch my art and see trouble with a canvas much less a brush.

However, there are two men who gave me something to think about being 78. H.G. Wells, the father of Modern Science Fiction, got his Doctorate at London University at that age, and Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., a Supreme Court Justice who had championed free speech, made it very clear that “the right to free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting ‘fire’ in a theater and causing a panic.” While I was reading about free speech, I realised that there was a speaker who should never, ever, be set free.

On my 77th birthday last year, the person spent hours on a deposition with the Attorney General of New York, and he took the “Fifth Amendment” (the right not to answer questions that could incriminate you) more than 400 times. This year, on my birthday next week, he has a hearing in court trying to disqualify the investigation into his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia. The man is Donald Trump and I hope he is not only trumped but dumped into jail for the rest of his life.

I don’t like “the Donald” and I am definitely not at all like him. I will try not to blow my own trumpet or become a one-man band. I am not like the 78-year-old man whose wife Ruth died and people called him “Ruthless.” My major problem is in a few more years I will be as toothless as a gummy bear. I know already that a happy hour for me is a nap in the afternoon or sometimes in the morning right after my cup of coffee. I am able to live without sex but not without my glasses. My ears have more hair than my head.

And, no joke, my birthday suit needs pressing especially as it is totally depressing to look at right now. Comedian Roger Dangerfield put it in perspective, “I got up this morning, put on a shirt and a button fell off. I picked up my briefcase and the handle fell off. I’m afraid to go to the bathroom.” It is like when your wife says, “Let’s go upstairs and make love” and your answer is, “Darling, I can’t do both!” In fact, if you talk the truth, it is “I can’t do either.”

One of the other things I can’t do “either” (or as one of my friends would say “Or Ermine, Eva or Emily) is carrying out commands properly, or remembering what I should not screw up (or who). I don’t remember birthdays, gifts, names and what my wife sent me to the grocery to buy. I am like the 78-year-old doctor who for his wife’s birthday party was told by the family he should order a cake with the inscription: “You are not getting older. You are just getting better.” When asked by the baker how he wanted the message arranged, he said, “Just put ‘You are not getting older’ at the top and ‘You are just getting better’ at the bottom’.”

It wasn’t until the doctor, his wife, his family and guests were gathered to cut the cake, that he saw what was written on it: “You are not getting older at the top. You are just getting better at the bottom.”

In my case neither the top nor the bottom worries me. It is the centre of what passes for civilisation in my brain, as well as those of all the people of the Caribbean and the world to whom I reach out every Saturday. There are two people who, when I finally reach my maker, I will think of. The first is Winston Churchill who taught me, “We are happier in many ways when we are old than when we were young. The young sow wild oats. The old grow sage.” The second is St Augustine whose philosophy resonates with me but whose humanity lives forever. He begged God, “Grant me chastity and self-control, but please not yet.”

*Tony Deyal was last seen explaining that when he wakes up in the morning the first thing he does is lie in bed and read the newspaper obituaries. If his name is not in there, he gets up. However, one morning he got the previous day’s newspaper and started to shout, “Oh God, ah dead, ah dead!!!”  

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