Old Friends Again
I was fifteen in 1969, and one of my favorite albums was, and still is, Simon and Garfunkel’s Bookends. There was a track on side one — a track that some of my friends skipped over, but one that I always listened to: Track 5. Voices of Old People.
Art Garfunkel had taken a tape recorder into the United Home for Aged Hebrews in New Rochelle, New York, and to the California Home for the Aged at Reseda. He recorded old people venting their frustrations about aging. One segment in particular always stuck in my brain. It was Man number 2 in the recording. He says: . . . and I can’t get up the mucus for the last, eh, two, three months. . . oh, yes, and I maintain, I maintain strongly, to this minute, I don’t think it’s an ordinary cold.
As a teenager it made me laugh and cringe at the same time. Any time I‘d gotten sick I would imitate the voice and chant the line: I can’t get up the mucus! It always made me laugh.
Now that I’m sixty-six, empathy has replaced my youthful idiocy. Because now it’s me who can’t get up the mucus.
I’ve only recently gotten over a two-week slow dance with bronchitis, but the mucus lingers like a repugnant acquaintance who won’t let go of your ear at a party. And I now treat my Mucinex liquid like a treasured bottle of fine Irish whisky. If I don’t have it with me on the train I daydream about that moment when I can get home and hit the bottle once more. Smacking my lips and coughing up a loogie or two. I live for moments like that.
Recently, on my way to the toilet at the supermarket, I found myself eyeing the adult diapers section as I did my pee-dance down aisle six. Turns out I’m a lousy dancer. My pee has a mind of its own. I can’t even run tap water at the kitchen sink without my bladder going over the maximum-load line. Then it’s a race to the bathroom to determine whether or not I’ll be changing my pants. “Did you just pee in your pants?" my wife will say as I try to pass her on the stairs. I will lie and tell her that the kitchen sink has a lot of kick-back, and how I’ll have to do something about that one day. But she knows. She. . . knows.
Other than that I’m a just a run-of-the-mill falling apart one day at a time sort of guy. I’m just not ready for you to help me cross the street yet. So don’t go yelling in my ear to ask if I need a hand with my packages. And don’t wonder who I’m talking to when you see me walking down the street by myself. You know damn well who I’m talking to. I’m talking to me, of course. Who else is going to listen to what I have to say?
How terribly strange to be sixty-six. Four years shy of the park bench. Which I’ll be sharing quietly, of course. I can’t wait.
Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons: