I have always quipped that I had only two identifiable talents, namely a very good memory and a very big mouth or what the Italians call—Boccalone!
The two have worked foot and shoe for most of my adult life.
I actually have developed an additional personal quality that I am increasingly proud of.
I am an inveterate storyteller.
Virtually every one of my posts, or at least the ones that are deeply personal revolve around a story of some sort.
I practice as often as I can…in small gatherings, dinners with friends or family…or wherever and whenever I meet new people.
My only rule, other than keeping them relatively clean, is not to repeat myself.
Most of the time it is a situation or something the other person has said that will prompt my telling a story or making an observation.
And unlike many storytellers, most of mine do have a point…something that may even transcend the nature of the story itself.
I think I adopted this trait through my love of baseball.
That was what has always intrigued me about the game–the wonderful array of personal stories that gave flesh and blood to a sport that draws its lifeblood from statistics.
I call this the S. A. B. R. Syndrome, named after the Society of American Baseball Research which has changed the nature and face os baseball statistical analysis.
That’s one reason I quit the organization after over 20 years as a member.
Baseball lost something very personable when the players stopped traveling by rail and they had a closer relationship with their business advisor than their teammates.
I started telling stories, mostly about my baseball memories.
Then I branched out in all fields of endeavor and interest.
Most of my stories are usually about me.
I have received some criticism for that.
The word narcissist or even ego-maniac has sometimes come up.
There was this fellow at the radio station where I filled in for Phyllis Schlafly for many years that called me on it and said I was the most egotistical man he had ever worked with.
And he liked me…so I thought!
My audiologist, the woman that helps with my hearing problem at Central Institute for the Deaf strongly disagreed with the announcer when I told this story to her.
She told me that I was a natural-born storyteller.
In all modesty, there was no way I could dispute her honest opinion.
God bless her for it!
Sure most of my stories are about me!
That’s because they are my stories and I am in just about all of them.
How can I separate my life experiences from myself?
While I sometimes tell stories about things, events and so on that I have read about in books, newspapers or have seen on television or even the movies but my best stories are about things I have witnessed, had inflicted on myself or had experienced in a very personal way.
They are real stories about real things.
I seldom embellish them and most of them wind up blowing the spit back in my own face.
They may be about me but more times than not the result is not favorable to my self-image.
Often times as they say the joke is on me.
I seldom get to be the hero.
I encourage that if it will get a laugh.
Making someone smile, laugh or snicker at something I have said is the highest form of personal validation I have achieved in my social relationships.
And I believe I am getting very good at it.
If I am at a public dinner and my table is not laughing harder than adjoining tables, I get upset.
I feel I am not being true to my special thing.
There is a lot of the court jester in me and I feel that in many ways, it is my special gift.
This is something I have been able to do for a long time.
The first time I realized I could do this was at my grandfather’s wake in 1962.
No disrespect intended but it was in one of the waiting rooms that I was first felt my gift.
My uncle–my mother’s younger brother, my dad and a few others were present and I just started cracking jokes or telling my limited range of stories.
Their laughter only encouraged me.
Ever since then when I am with any group of two or more people I feel compelled to raise the humor level a few notches.
But I have never thought that I had what it takes to do it professionally.
I have probably already written of my one experience of stand-up comedy on a cruise in the early 1980s.
They had a talent night and I signed up to do four minutes of my brand of humor.
Well during the performance which was based mostly of what I knew–my family, who strategically did not attend my first and last performance as a stand-up comedian.
The painful truth is my four minutes generated three and a half minutes of dead silence.
The silence was deafening.
The crowd of about 350 were mostly polite but somewhere between comatose and death.
It was very lonely on that stage.
The only member of my family that got a laugh and he is arguably the funniest member of the family…next to me… was my son Matthew who was eight at that time.
I said he had all the instincts of a terrorist.
I got a big laugh but today I am not so sure anyone would be brave enough to laugh.
My story about my wife…not only did not evoke any laughter but actually made some people angry.
My wife had been forced to assist a magician during his stage act the prior night.
Well the magician prepared to chop off her head with something like a guillotine.
I quipped that before he had finished four young women came up to me and asked what I was doing after the show.
Now I thought that was funny!
An elderly woman rushed up to me when the show was over and berated me for saying such things about my wife.
We all went on another cruise three years later and they also had a talent night.
So I go to sign up again in hope of atoning for my last performance, only to find out that California Raisins and comedians were banned.
I had been banned at sea.
I guess I could never go back to Boston.
Yes, stand-up comedy is very hard.
But it is not my thing because as a child my parents always told me to sit down and shut-up.
I really prefer smaller clubs…like elevators.
Year later a friend and I commandeered an elevator in a Cleveland hotel at the SABR convention and proceeded to do schtick before we reached the Lobby level.
That’s what comedians always love–a captive audience.
No matter how much they screamed we would not let them out of the elevator.
So I have had to let go of my comedic aspirations for pure storytelling.
And that’s probably a good thing because I just learned who the patron saint of comedians is.
None other than St. Lawrence who was roasted alive.
Tradition holds that Lawrence was burned or grilled to death, hence his association with the gridiron.
Tradition also holds that Lawrence joked about their cooking him enough to eat while he was burning on the gridiron, hence his patronage of cooks and chefs, stating something along the lines of, turn me over … I’m done on this side.
I think storytelling is safer.
The act of getting old really has two parts of it.
During the second half of anyone’s life there is the usual noticeable decline that can be severely pronounced in some people.
I heard many years ago that the secret of longevity is to pick good parents.
In my own case as I wade more deeply into my 70th year both of my parents lived into their very early nineties.
Unfortunately my mother had been gradually losing her mind to dementia since she was about 70-72.
I am not exactly certain when that started but I am sure that to the observant–not me or my father–but to her friends the signs were definitely there.
She had stopped reading her romance novels, which had become her favorite pastime.
She started forgetting her way home from a department store on Queens Boulevard that was two miles from home and other smaller incidents of memory loss.
My father’s decline was much more gradual and it centered more on his body than his mind.
Sure he did not have the current memory he did when he was a young man but I was amazed at the time when he must have 90 that he recited verbatim text-book definitions from his medical books at NYU.
That memory was still sharp and precise.
My father had a much harder time in letting go, which is the other side of the getting old coin.
I felt his pain as we had to explain to him why he needed to move from the only house he had ever lived in.
I could see the sadness in his face when he said that if he did his life would be over.
And it was.
He proceeded to break his hip, not once but twice.
Six months after we virtually kidnapped him to a new facility for the elderly at St. John’s Hospital, he died of pneumonia.
My mother was a different story.
Her will never saw it coming.
She lost her thinking, emotions, and fears is a slow gradual process that required nothing of her but to act naturally.
Nature did the rest.
I dread either course.
To me letting go is the defining principle that is necessary for learning how to accept the inevitable.
It is the only way to insure a happy death.
As I attend more and more funerals and wakes, I have learned about how others have faced something that I have dreaded since I saw a TV cowboy hero succumb to bullet wounds in a ditch when I was six years old.
That seemed so real to me and the fact that he was one of the good guys made a deep impression on me.
Letting go is the only way to control our willfulness to hang on to the things that give us comfort and protection on earth.
In some cases these last things could have been our vices and addictions that have kept us away from God.
As St. Augustine petitioned as a young man, Lord, make me pure…just not now.
That prayer is probably the most common prayer of the vast majority of people, who do not like to give up even their little vices, such as a candy bar before bed, a nitecap in the late afternoon and perhaps Playboy Magazine, for the articles of course.
This thought underscores the importance of Lent, in which Christians are supposed to mortify the flesh and desires so as prepare for their final act of giving up and letting go.
But mortifications of the flesh are much more difficult when nature is already doing a good job of it.
What’s wrong with a little pleasure of food or even sex–married sex of course— when your body hurts all the time and you have trouble sleeping?
I really don’t have an answer for that.
I hope that the last thing I have to let go of is my regular massage.
It has been the one thing that has made senescence tolerable.
Speaking of sex, the word orgasm literally means little death or what the French call la petite mort.
In on of his poems, Percy Shelly associates orgasm with death when he writes about the death which lovers love.
One thing I can add is that fear of the final self-release from the world has prompted me to take better care of myself.
I try to eat healthy foods and I exercise at least twice a week.
Since my massage therapist keeps telling me that she is giving me passive exercise–make that four times a week total.
The term letting go is really a euphemism for dying.
It doesn’t have to be the Big Sleep.
But as Jesus us said we have to die to sin…to the attachments of the earth that will distract us from the promise of salvation and eternal happiness.
Life is filled with all of these little deaths.
That is one of the saddest facts of my life.
I often wonder what happened to the people who I knew for just a few bleeps on the monitor of life, and then disappeared from me for the rest of my life.
My loss of contact was just one of those little deaths that fills our lives almost on a daily basis.
Nostalgia for our youth, the games of childhood and the learning, living and loving experiences we all have is more a pinning or recognition of those many little deaths or orgasms of the spirit…of the memory.
Little deaths follow us in into middle age.
We all have to die to our youth.
The sad truth of the matter is that we have to die to or put away to things of a child as St. Paul urged in his First Corinthians 13:11.
Those words of wisdom were preached to my freshman class at Holy Cross during orientation in 1961.
That is so hard for so many–especially men.
We all go through some form of mid-life crisis.
I know I did.
Now I guess I am having an end of life crisis.
To people who have led a life of self-denial with hundreds of tiny orgasms of the will this letting go should be relatively easy.
That is one of the most brilliant and wise aspects of my Catholic faith.
One that I wish I had followed a lot more closely.
By adopting a total acceptance of all of these little deaths, I think it will help me accept the larger version of it when I take my last breath.
I think now is the time to get my will in as good a shape as my body.
Then perhaps I will be able to experience what I have heard on at least three occasions from friends or spouses of friends that there was talk of a beatific presence during the dying person’s last moment.
That in itself will be well worth letting go for.
These little deaths get us ready for the final letting go of life.
As the main character in All That Jazz laments near the end of his life and the movie, Good Bye My Life Goodbye.
But the good news is that the end of our earthly lives are hopefully just the beginning of something far better and way more exciting.
I will do anything to attract my readers’ attention.
My title is a play–thanks to Rush’s show where I heard it–on the immensely popular, dirty book that has sold like wildflowers for the past few years.
Set largely in Seattle, it is the first instalment in a trilogy that traces the deepening relationship between a college graduate, Anastasia Steele, and a young business magnate, Christian Grey.
It is notable for its explicitly erotic scenes featuring elements of sexual practices involving bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism.
Been there–done all that!!!
What a great come-on to a post about the thrills of getting old.
This a is a subject that has drawn my attention for the last years.
Getting old can be anologized to having a home filled with wonderful technological devices that do just about everything for you.
But slowly but surely they start breaking down on you and you have to call a repairman…you can get one to fix it.
The trouble is that the medical repairman will never be able to “fix” anything, that is restore it to its youthful ability to function.
He can prescribe glasses, a hearing aid, a walker,and pills for just about everything that won’t work.
You be able to see, hear, walk and do other things but not quite as well.
Participating in any kind of sports, more active than checkers might be risky for your health and even your life.
Sprinting of any kind is verboten.
Remember life is a marathon…not a 100 yard dash.
And have you ever seen what marathon men look like after they finish?
There is even a name for this process of playing the back nine or maybe just the last few holes–it is called senescence.
In English it means–and is from the Latin senex–which simply means getting old.
This word dates back to 1695, which makes it an old word.
In her book, Mansion of Happiness, Jill Lapore tells the story of Granville Stanley Hall.
Hall was a pioneering psychologist and educator, who became the first president of Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts.
In his earlier academic career, Hall had been one of the first sex-educators in American history and prided himself on his vitality.
He a while Hall dedicated himself to the sex-instruction part of academia.
His first wife and daughter had been asphyxiated in an accident involving the gas heater that was not properly lighted.
His second wife grew fat, said he beat her and eventually had to be institutionalized.
Hall aged more than a decade in a few short years.
For the first time, the social scientist who had written widely about adolescence, realized he had grown old.
He was 45.
He did this with regret because to him adolescents were effervescent, and plastic.
They have color in their souls, brilliant, livid and loud.
He revered it as the time in our lives when we are most capable of making a leap, and bringing civilization along with us, to the next stage.
So he dedicated his remaining years to studying his own decline.
To him the transformation of old age from a stage of life into a disease was a longtime coming.
The modern medical treatment of aging as a disease and death as something to be conquered, began in earnest during the first decade of the 20th century.
Hall began his study of old age by studying himself clinically,.
He reported in 1917 that early senescence was not so bad and just might be more interesting to study than adolescence.
He didn’t publish much on his new subject until 1921 when Atlantic magazine published his Old Age.
He had just retired from the university at the age of 77.
After an initial phase of depression, Hall recovered quickly and wrote his autobiography that had pulled together everything he could think of about the aging process since he was 45.
The result was Senescence: The Last Half of Life was published in 1922.
His object in writing the book had alway been to know more about this stage of his life, find out its status, estimate its powers, its limitations, its physical and mental regimen.
Hall also took a physical inventory of his limbs, his acuity and so forth.
He chronicled every debility of old age, along with its treatment.
He visited doctors only to conclude that he should be my own doctor.
This he followed the next year with his The Life and Confessions of a Psychologist.
He studied tha lives of Napoleon, who lost Waterloo at 45 and Dickens, who had written his best material before 40 and concluded that adolescent was definitely more productive.
He especially wanted to look death…calmly in the face.
Surprisingly when he did die until 1924, they found that he had hidden away a miser’s fortune in every bank in Massachusetts.
I think Hall did prove one thing to me.
Old age cannot be just studied.
It has to be lived because every moment if precious, especially when your biological clock is ticking.
His life, especially the period of his senescence, brings a tear to my eye.
There is no science of old age, just like there is no science of history.
One cannot put human beings in a test tube and shake them up and expect to learn something.
The human condition is highly complex and multi-demsional.
My senescence may not be the golden years I had heard about but I have been more productive and more aware if my own existence.
A good friend recently told me that her Ukrainian mother had told her that age was just a number but it is what comes along with the number that is important.
Sure nothing works the way I would like.
That is just the price you have to pay for breathing in the air, seeing with a mature eye the beauty of nature…a garden…a an ocean shore and maybe a pretty one or two.
It is well worth enduring the things that go along with my rising number.