Old Age. Laugh it Off

Jack Benny, the beloved comedian, insisted he was 39 years old and kept insisting that for 40 years. After awhile we fans thought, “Who are we to doubt him? He should know.”

According to Jack, years aren’t important, attitude is. “Age is strictly a case of mind over matter,” he said. “If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

I agree. We oldsters should just keep plugging along until they pull the plug, enjoying every precious minute. After all, it’s better to be over the hill than under it. We should even laugh at some of the old-age jokes the young whippersnappers tell. But don’t they realize eventually, God willing, they’ll become old whippersnappers?

I have to admit some of their gags are real knee-slappers like, “When we were young we thought about buying new hip clothes. Now we think about buying new hips.” I choked on my Metamucil laughing at that one.

Then there’s the ones that start: “You know you’re getting old when,” followed by a list of symptoms. “Your knees begin to buckle but your belt won’t” and “Your back goes out more often than you do.”

I did get a little irritated when a young slim standup comic pointed me out in the audience and said, “Sir, you look like you once had a physique the girls thought was swell. Too bad now it’s just swollen.” May fifty thousand calories find their way into his tofu entree.

We even pull these oldster jokes on our contemporaries. A buddy recently bragged about still being attractive. “A woman tried to pick me up at the senior dance last night,” he said.

“Oh, that’s too bad,” I replied. “Did you fall down again?”

Then there was the new fellow, reluctantly joining our superannuated ranks. “I’m turning 80 next week,” he groaned, “and I’m dreading it.”

“You’re perfectly right, ” I said. “Eighty is a terrible age. Not much good can be said about it. I’m so glad I’m not 80 anymore.”


NO MORE CURSIVE? CURSES!

Computers, cellphones and texting have made us a nation of hunt-and-peck typists, but they are also helping to eradicate the teaching and practice of cursive writing. If the trend continues, with significant differences between cursive and block letters, cursive may become as unreadable for some as an ancient Etruscan laundry list.

Children may become unable to read hand-written letters from their Grandma and how will they endorse Grandma’s happy birthday checks?

Block letters came first, but Anglo-Saxons in Britain were into cursive writing before the Norman invasion in 1066 A.D. Flowing script was said to have been invented to save time and reduce ink blots from leaky quills raised after each block letter. It also added a personal touch.

Thomas Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence was almost completely cursive and Abraham Lincoln wrote his Gettysburg Address in handwriting that can easily be read by today’s students provided cursive is still in their curriculum.

California officials are debating whether to promote cursive penmanship in their schools. Teachers there say it stimulates brain development. Eleven other states require or at least encourage cursive and ten others are considering legislation to prevent its decline.

Old-timers will remember the graceful curves of the Palmer Method and the medals awarded to students who achieved a “fair hand”. That may never return. Recently I watched a young store clerk fill out a form in block letters using a ballpoint pen that she gripped like a dagger.

Another loss would be the ability to analyze handwriting to discover someone’s personality and talents. Block letters can be unchangeably boring while there are many possible variations in the shapes of all 26 cursive letters. A handwriting analyst I once interviewed told me she was hired by corporations to study job-seekers’ application forms to gauge their potential as employees. Apparently our individual loops, circles, stems, T-crossings and I-dots can provide a look into our psyche.

For those wanting to fake a personal touch, cursive fonts are available in various styles for all types of correspondence including thank you notes to Grandma. Just press a button and your block sentences turn cursive. But wait, there’s more! You can also choose a font for your job application’s handwritten resume that resembles the penmanship of famous people like Albert Einstein or Charles Edison. Let them analyse that.

ABRIDGED TOO FAR

We have so much to say and life is so short. Therefore we invented abbrs, initials, contractions, symbols, acronyms, icons, memes, etc. It’s ok w/me & my PC. It saves us hrs/yr, paper & ink. When I want to finish a blog ASAP (this one, e.g.), I go into my PDQ mode. However, I think we’re overdoing it, i.e., a texter wd hv shortened this para. by 50%.

Old-fashioned abbrs are more decipherable than today’s texting codes. A neophyte could receive salacious msgs w/o realizing it. LOL (laughing out loud) is cute, but wouldn’t “HaHa” also work? And ROFL (rolling on the floor laughing) is overkill. Try “LOL x 2”.

I think texters want to seal us off like our parents did when they discussed neighborhood scandals at the dinner table, spelling out their gossip not realizing how far we’d advanced in school. “Mom, there’s no ‘S’ in divorce,” we’d say, or “Dad, there are two ‘C’s’ in alcoholic, they’re not ‘K’s “.

If necessity is the father of invention, laziness must be the mother. A weary monument maker in ancient Rome, tired of chiseling “Senatus Populusque Romanus” (The Senate and People of Rome) shortened it to SPQR one day to get home to dinner on time. Two milleniums later the initials are still part of the city’s official emblem.

Perhaps a medieval Irish monk, after hours of tedious transcribing decided “Anno Domini” (The year of Our Lord) should become A.D. which, with B.C. (Before Christ), is sometimes replaced now with C.E. (Common Era). Where are we headed? Heaven knows.

We’ll never return to the long versions. Imagine telling someone you’ll meet them at nine of the clock ante meridiem, or have a cop say he caught you speeding with his radio detecting and ranging apparatus. Radar is an acronym, a string of initials that became a word, like NATO, NASA, laser and UNICEF. Korean War G.I.’s had one called FIGMO, but that’s all I have to say about that.

A standard greeting, “How are you?” has morphed to “Hiya” and then “Hi” while the common salutation “Hello” has been cut to “Lo”. So two friends meeting will say “Hi” and “Lo”.

ESL students must wonder why “oz” and “lb” stand for ounce and pound. “Teacher, does that mean Judy Garland starred in ‘The Wizard of Ounce’ and was President Johnson’s first name Pound?”

The letters SOB stand for “Senate Office Building” and dozens of other phrases, one of which is indelicate. When writing to a member of the Upper House you could therefore address the envelope: U.S. Senator (name) SOB, Wash. D.C. But don’t mention this blog.

VERY ANCIENT CHINA

Archeological evidence indicates some of our Stone Age ancestors had already begun to dine on manufactured tableware. Diggings in a late Paleolithic campsite have unearthed animal bones, primitive cooking tools and, surprisingly, remnants of ceramic dishes. There was no evidence of soap or dish towels at the 20,000-year old barbecue site so we can only assume the primeval dishes were licked clean by the diners. There were also no surviving fragments of fortune cookies at the dig in Hunan, China.

Before cave people learned how to make pottery, food was served on shells or flat stones or were hand-to-mouth meals and every day was potluck day, serving whatever the hunters managed to bring home. On very bad days, sabertooth tigers dined on the hunters. I would rather have been a gatherer rather than a hunter back then. No one has ever been attacked and eaten by a blueberry bush or a mushroom patch.

Shakespeare mentions trenchers on the feasting tables of his characters. Trenchers were large slices of stale bread used as dinner plates. After the entree was finished the “plate” was soaked in sauce and eaten or it was given to the poor. Trenchers are making a comeback as bread bowls for soup. I’ve found, the hard way, that to avoid a mess, one must swallow the last spoonful of soup before starting to eat the bowl.

Pewter dishes have been popular for many years and might be the reason for the original unpopularity of tomatoes. Pewter is mostly tin with a dash of lead. It was feared the acid in tomatoes would leach out the lead and produce sickening salads. The tomato was therefore known then as the “deadly nightshade” which wouldn’t be a very inviting menu item. Imagine telling a diner waitress to bring you a bacon, lettuce and deadly nightshade on rye toast.

We have made significant strides to replace dish-licking since the Stone Age. We don’t hear complaints of “dishpan hands” since the introduction of dishwashing machines, labor-saving devices that are supposed to turn out sparkling tableware if you use the expensive washing and rinsing concoctions.

I am not altogether opposed to dish-licking. I wouldn’t do it in a restaurant, but at home when a favorite entree has been served and the last dollop consumed except for the residue on my plate. Well, what’s the big deal? It’s all in the family.

NEVER LOOK FOR HELP TO KEEP A SECRET

It isn’t fair to burden a friend with a juicy secret about one of your personal problems and then warn him “not to tell a soul”. That’s like giving a lollipop to a little kid and saying, “Now don’t lick this.”

If a potentially embarrassing situation begins to wear you down and you feel you just have to talk it over with someone, resist the urge. It’s better to discuss these delicate subjects with your dog who will listen sympathetically while you get it off your chest and get some relief.

This doesn’t work as well with cats or goldfish and never, ever discuss your private affairs with your parrot.

Some people have a way of rationalizing their clumsy handling of a friend’s secret. “When I told you about my problem you swore it was ‘in the vault’ and now I find it’s common knowledge all over town. Did you tell anybody?”

“Well yes I did, but very discreetly, and I told him, quite emphatically, that your problem was a deep, dark secret and not to mention it to anyone.”

It goes something like this. Your name comes up in a conversation between your confidant and another blabbermouth and your confidant says, “Oh, poor man, he’s got a serious problem. I could tell you a lot, but my lips are sealed. However, I can give you a small hint without breaking my oath.

The “small hint” becomes, after cross-examination, a four-paragraph detailed description of your problem which the secondary blabbermouth edits, adding his own colorful assumptions before forwarding, and the doctored version of your problem goes viral.

“Letting the cat out of the bag is a lot easier than getting him back in,” said humorist Will Rogers. Ben Franklin, in the same vein, said “Three can keep a secret if two are dead.” I’m not sure even that works. One potential tattletale is still at large and the dead ones might have left memoirs.

If someone tries to unload their scandalous secret on you, tell him you’re flattered, but you must decline because you often talk in your sleep and your wife might take notes. If they don’t accept this excuse, you can offer to arrange a private consultation for them with your dog.

CATastrophes

I have never owned a cat. However, over the years several cats have owned me. I’ve always been able to reach working arrangements with our pet dogs. They’ve been less demanding, more forgiving and , unlike cats, less prone to having attitudes.

There are about 76 pet million cats in America now so a lot of people would probably say I’m misjudging cats, but if our 90 million pet dogs are allowed to participate in the survey, I think I’d have a solid majority on my side.

A kitten that’s brought into the house will be treated like a princess. (“Oh what a sweet little kitty! Listen to her purr. It’s my turn now. Let me pet her.”) But before you know it, the beast grows up and one day she calls a family meeting. “Listen you guys,” she snarls. “This is the way it’s going to be from now on if you don’t want your sofa and drapes shredded, your carpets corrupted and your dog traumatized.” So you end up with a foul-smelling litter box and a closet full of Friskies, and catnip treats and toys.

Cats don’t bark and that’s one of their few saving qualities. A friend of mine had a cat who, when his screeching was being ignored, would claw the family dog and make him bark. It was like having an agent.

Thank goodness we don’t have to walk cats. That would involve high-speed squirrel chases, fence-jumping and tree-climbing, something like qualifying for the Olympics twice a day.

But tree-climbing? Why are fire fighters called to rescue cats in trees? Certainly it’s the cat owners rather than the cats who make the rescue calls (as far as we know). Cats are not in much danger perched a mere 50 feet up in a sycamore. There are records of cats falling 26 stories (about 260 feet) without suffering serious injury. That’s attributed to their large body surface compared to their lightness which reduces the terminal velocity of their landing, resulting in a 90 percent survival rate for long distance falls.

So if you get angry with your cat don’t toss him out the window. He’ll most likely come back to get revenge. If you really want to get even, do what I did. I named my last cat Fido.

WHO GOES THERE, FRIEND OR FIEND?

Once when I was a lot younger and a little more daring, I decided to go to a local Halloween party as Frankenstein’s monster. I worked up an imaginative combination of homemade makeup and props which turned out to be a little too frightening.

I scared the bejeebers out of the babysitter when I greeted her at the door and I shouldn’t have gone in to say goodnight to the kids before we left. My wife, dressed as the fairy queen, managed to calm them down.

Driving to the party I wondered what kind of a reaction I would get if a cop pulled me over for creeping over the speed limit. I could have told him I was racing to the emergency room which would have been convincing with my pale green complexion and fake bloody scars. But what if he insisted on calling ahead and leading the way with siren blaring and roof lights flashing? Who knows, I might have ended up in the morgue, despite my protests. I maintained a steady 25 miles per hour.

I thought my realistic monster getup would make me a contender in the party’s costume contest, but I didn’t even get horrible mention. A pretty young woman wearing a huge papier-mache pumpkin to hide her delicate condition took the prize. The judges said her costume was a “pregnant idea”. They didn’t even compliment me on the painful “bolts” (curtain rod ends) sticking out of my neck.

There were rude comments from “friends” at the party, like “Hello, Gene. How come you didn’t come in a costume?” and the tipsy wise guy who kept following me around the dance floor shouting “It’s alive! It’s alive!” Boris Karloff would have taken care of him with one swipe.

The final blow was at the diner where we went for coffee after the party, when Monica, our usual waitress, remarked. “Oh, I see you took my advice about plastic surgery. Congratulations, it’s quite an improvement.” She got the minimum tip.