Old Is Where It’s At
But It Takes Getting Used To
By Richard E. Noble
All of the music that I listen to, I started collecting from the Columbia Record Club back up in Lawrence in the 50’s. It was written, sung and played by dead people - Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, Erroll Garner, Peggy Lee, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Doris Day, etc., and now even Ray Charles. All of these people are now dead.
All the books that I read were written by dead people, and most of them died a long, long, time ago. Shakespeare, Victor Hugo, Tolstoy, Plato, Bertrand Russell, Sartre, Aristotle, Mark Twain, O’Henry, Benjamin Franklin, Adam Smith, Upton Sinclair, Henry S. Comminger, Thomas Jefferson; they’re all dead. Just about every book on my bookshelf or on my up-and-coming reading list was written by a person who is now dead. William Manchester was one of the few who I have been reading who was still alive, but now, he is dead also.
My very life and experiences are now the subject matter of history books. My books are in the history section at the Lawrence Library. Some of them are at the Heritage History Museum even.
Now most of my big decisions are concerned with pain and longevity. Should I bend or should I squat? Should I risk buying bananas that are still green? Yes, I know it is cancer but how long will it take to develop and mature? If it takes more 15 or 20 years to get serious, leave it there. Who cares? So what if I don’t get my cataracts removed and I will be blind in the year 2063. I ain’t going to be here anyway. Go right ahead and dissolve Medicare by 2050. See if I care.
Everywhere I go today the world seems to be filled with people, who, like myself, are very old or almost dead.
The grocery store, even, is being staffed by people who are almost dead. I think that all the young people today are either so whacked-out on drugs that they can’t pass a pee test or they are off in some foreign country fighting for somebody’s freedom and are now unable to deliver my newspaper or ring up my groceries at Demoulas’ Market or Butcher Boy’s.
The guy checking out my groceries at the store the other day, along with the bagboy, were both older than me. Now that’s scary.
I put my groceries on the automatic sliding shelf and the old man starts running them across the magic price reading thing-a-ma-gig. Everything is going fine until this chicken won’t beep. He swishes it across the magic window three of four more times at varying rates of speed – but not a beep out of the chicken. He shakes the chicken two or three times, as if there must be something wrong with whatever is inside of the chicken that makes the beeper beep – but, no response from the chicken. He then presses the chicken into the magic window and puts his body weight on top of it to try and get it closer to the magic window reading whosey that is inside somewhere. (Personally I think there is an illegal alien in there with a key pad.) Nothing happens. The gray haired, partially bald clerk holds the chicken up in front of him and shakes his head negatively. “What is wrong with this chicken?” he mumbles. “I guess that I will have to ring it up by the code numbers.”
He stretches his arms out in front of him as far as they will extend; he tilts his head up, squints a little and makes an attempt to read the code numbers on the price tag of the chicken through one of the sections on his trifocals. “My god” he says. “Ted Williams, who could see the threads on a curve ball coming at him at one hundred and ten miles an hour, couldn’t read this damn thing.”
He lowers the chicken down towards his waist, turns his head slightly to one side and tries to read the numbers from out the corner of his glasses. No luck. He holds the chicken in one hand and then tries to adjust his glasses on his face, up and down, with his other hand. No go. He takes his glasses off, momentarily and tries to scan the chicken bare-eyed – no help. He raises and lowers the chicken – still at arms length – while he nods his head up and down in an opposite sequence from the movement of the chicken. It could be a focusing problem. Doesn’t work.
He takes his glasses off his head and runs them back and forth between his eyes and the chicken – nothing. Finally he lays the chicken down on the counter and attempts to read the code numbers by placing his glasses down on top of the price tag on the chicken, as if his trifocals are a magnifying glass. This doesn’t work.
“Let me see that chicken; maybe I can read it,” After examining the chicken closely, I say, “I think that it is three dollars and twenty-five cents.”
“I know that,” he says, with a frustrated sarcasm. “It is not the price I need. I need all of them little numbers there on the bottom of the price tag, next to all those squiggly lines.”
“Oh, here you mean ... okay, let’s see – four, six, nine, seven, seven, three, one, two, eight, eight, eight, four, one, two, three, eight, nine, one, two, one. That’s it. Wouldn’t it be easier to just ring up the price?”
“Oh god! Don’t even talk about that. That’s a book in itself. So, is that it?”
“No. I don’t think that you got my tomato there.”
“Okay, that will be $149.52.”
“Did you get my tomato?”
The man doesn’t look at me and repeats the total bill once again. I notice that he has a buzzer in his ear. My wife has a buzzer for each ear.
When you see a person with a buzzer in their ear that means that they only read lips. The buzzer in a person’s ear doesn’t really do anything. It is, more or less, a symbol or a sign of deafness. It is only there to let other people know that this person can’t hear a damn thing. It is like a pair of sunglasses on a blind person. But because I have experience living with a person with buzzers in her ears, I know how to handle this situation. I tap the clerk on the shoulder – when he turns and looks at me, I say very slowly and in a loud voice; “Did ... you ... get ... my ... tomato?”
“You got a potato?”
“No, did ... you ... get ... my ... tomato?”
“You don’t have to yell at me, I ain’t deaf for god’s sake.”
“I’m sorry.” I reach down and pick up the tomato that is lying on the conveyor belt. I hold it up and roll it around in front of the man’s face.
“That is not a potato,” he criticizes.
“I know. It’s a tomato. Did you ring it up?”
“Is it yours?”
“Not yet, but I would like it to be one day.”
“You want me to ring that up?”
“Would you please?”
The man puts the tomato on a special scale. The computer identifies the tomato as a tomato and suggests a starting price or bid. The optimum possible price appears on the price screen after a series of bids from e-bay have been calculated into the final quote.
“How much is that tomato?”
“Twelve dollars and nineteen cents.”
“No, that’s what the machine says. I think that they had a blizzard in Paraguay this month or something. All the tomatoes got killed.”
“All except that one.”
“I guess. You want it or not?”
“Yeah, I’ve been planning on having a tomato all this year. I already bought some bacon, white bread, mayonnaise and lettuce. It wouldn’t really be a BLT without the tomato.”
“Okay ... got the tomato; now where are those potatoes that you said you had?”
“I don’t have any potatoes. I can only afford so many vegetables in one year. This year it’s that tomato.”
“I get ya.”
“Would you like me to take this out to your car?” asked the bagboy who looked old enough to be Mark Twain’s grandfather. I watch the old man bagboy as he struggles to lift the bag off the counter and place it into my shopping cart. As he lowers the bag into the cart the upper half of his body follows the bag into the cart and his feet come off the ground behind him.
“Nuewww. I think I can handle that myself, but thank-you anyway, sonny,” I say.
As we exit the store, I say to my wife: “Did you see the price of that tomato?”
“We forgot to get a potato?”
“No," I said. "Did ... you ... see ... the ... price ... of ... that … tomato?”
She rushes her thumb up to her ear and begins spinning things around on her buzzer. “Holy Cow! What are you trying to do, blow my brains out! Just speak to me in a normal voice. Don’t yell!”
“Honey, I simply said, Did you see the price of that tomato? That’s all I said.”
“Okay! My goodness, you are such a baby. If you want potatoes, let’s just go back inside and get some.”