It used to be, in the old days, that my little sister and I (born on the same day, four years apart) would sneak downstairs, in the wee hours of the Magical Morning, and unload our stockings. Part of the pillage was invariably a large handful of dried dates.
With all this in mind, I recently bought a box of Dromedary Dates, and took it to a neighboring coffee shop, where I settled with my steaming cuppa to read the inscription on the date box. Never before in my long life had I ever done this. I was full of anticipation. See, and judge, for yourself what I was waiting for.
The following text is what I copied verbatim—punctuation, spelling, spacing, alignment, and all—from the back of a box of Al Madina Dates (Product of KSA):
The Benefits of Dates
Dates Have Been Considered Natural Food With A
Very Great and Useful Value Due to The Big Rate Of
Protein , Mineral, Salts and Vitamin Such As A,B1
,B2,BB Which Are Necessary To
Build Tussues and Muscles.
Dates Provide The Body With Amination To Aged
People , So Dates Controls Senility Features. Dates
Provide The Body With The Energy To Resist Mental
And Physical Tiredness. Dates Incrase Fertility, Sex
Power and Prevent Us From Chest And Lung
Dates Are Useful For Nervous System And Provide
Vessels With Flexibility And Vitality. This Food Also
Provide The Intestines With THE Necessary Moisture
And Prevents it From Weakness And Entritis.
Dates Are Useful in Vertigo And Laziness Casses.
Dates Are Easily Digestible, Diuretic, Clean Kidneys
And Liver And Have Active Effect On the Body
Dates Help in Delivery Due To The Stimulus
Elements That Support Uterus Muscles During The
Last Month of Pregnancy And Constipation After
Delivery And Decrease bleeding.
Dates Are Considered Natural Nutrition For
Nursing And in Confinement Ladies. [sic]
And, now, having eaten every single date so described in said box, your aged correspondent must affirm the accuracy of every one of these claims.
Look at me now: Though “elderly,” I am animated, with few disabling signs of senility; nervous system well tuned; mentally and physically energetic, as resistant as ever to physical tiredness before 2:00 a.m. (though as abandoned as ever to laziness). Something (the dates?) enabled my uterus to bear two children many years ago and prevented my being too lazy to change their diapers or do the laundry, or retain my teeth (though I confess that I’ve still got a baby canine on the lower left), or, in short, to live to this very great old age.
If I achieve my goal of living a Century, my children (and you, dear reader) will know we must consider the virtues of all those dates one eats along the way.
Despite today’s date–July 4 (2012)– the street is unnaturally quiet. I suppose everybody is celebrating Independence Day in Central Park, or some totally other place. After lunch–for which it is now time–I’ll do my Moll Flanders thing: go out on the street to see “what offers.” This being New York City, something, inevitably, WILL offer.
Meanwhile, indoors, every cubic inch of my tiny apartment, also offers something of interest to me. Wherever I look, there’s something that is, in itself, interesting–and associated with rich and wonderful memories. And then there’s always my little old lavender stool by the kitchen window, where I can watch the world, and the light, go by. I will NEVER forget that day, a year or so ago, when, while chopping onions on the counter near my kitchen window, I felt warm sunlight on my right arm. The light, it turned out, was reflected at an oblique angle from an upper floor window of the building across the street north of me. (See Reflection #1, March 16, 2011.)
Out of curiosity, I have just looked up “oblique.” I am astonished: this must be one of the few English words for which the first five characteristics are stated in the negative:
1. neither perpendicular nor parallel
2. having the axis not perpendicular to the base
3. having no right angle
4. not straightforward
5. situated at an angle: as “oblique muscles”: one end not inserted on bone
6. an oblique photograph: taken from an airplane with the camera directed horizontally or diagonally downward
Curious: Only #4 allows any figurative applications, such as in “an oblique remark.” And I think there must be very few words that we define principally–five definitions out of six!–in terms of what they are not. (Though, strictly speaking, #6 is not a definition, but an example.) And yet, in this instance, it is perfect: I was the beneficiary of warmth being reflected by cold flat glass, across the street and several stories above me. It was neither perpendicular nor parallel, nor shining directly on me.
So. I’ll be independent (and negative) today and not go whoop it up in Central Park. First my lunch, then a return to my needlepoint. I’ll take a walk later in the day, when the light of the sun is more oblique. (Though all nouns, I suppose, are figurative in some sense, however we use them, because they only stand for the objects that they represent [concrete] or the thoughts that they convey [abstract].)
(Slightly edited from an email to my daughter, 7/4/12)
Walking north on the west side of Madison Avenue about 5:30 this afternoon, I was surprised and delighted to meet a policeman mounted on a horse. The man and his mount were heading East on 29th, and had already stopped at the intersection with Madison to talk with another pedestrian who was interested.
I, of course, I had to make a detour and chat briefly with the Mounted Man–and especially, after being assured by the man of the law that it was OK to do so, to pat the horse’s nose.
It took me back. The last time I remember having touched a horse, I was thirteen or fourteen years old, going through an intense period of loving these animals. I, along with one of my friends, took riding lessons from Hubert Wright at his stable in the country outside Roanoke, Virginia, where my family lived at the time. I remember once falling off–and having to learn from Mr. Wright that there was a way to do even that: when you realize you’re going, you should lean forward and throw your arms around the horse’s neck, so that, as you fall, you swing around and land on your feet in front of your mount. As I describe it, it sounds impossible, which it certainly was for me at the time. And I once rode, though not very well, with other students of Mr. Wright in the annual July 4 horse show in Vinton, Virginia. I have to this day every picture of a horse that I collected in those years from any source at all–newspapers and magazines principally, advertisements, articles, all pasted in a dusty old green scrapbook.
I look at those pictures today and marvel: I once did that.
And yet. What is it about a horse? The thought of that creature bearing the policeman on his back brings tears to my eyes. Such an effective and trusting working relationship between a man and a very large and beautiful animal, together patrolling the streets of one of the largest and most complex and wonderful cities on the globe.
“A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” cried Shakespeare’s King Richard III, shortly before his inglorious end at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Villainous as he was, Richard had that right: the difference between his life and death, at that moment—a horse.
What an animal. What a team. What a history. What a city. What a world!
Math was never my thing. My father, fortunately, understood better than my teachers how to explain its principles–a fact which later led me to believe that some of those teachers hadn’t really understood them either. If they had, they would have been able to explain this arcane science as clearly as he did. Though all those years of schooling seemed not to make much of a mathematical dent with me, a language major–yet, like the dents in the fender of the car, those they did make don’t disappear so easily.
My current math problem addresses my total inability to remember my own age which, after all, is a number that changes every year.
Those early lessons in my ear, I ask myself: What would Daddy do?
Pondering the problem from that perspective revealed the solution at once: He would remind me that, of the four numbers in this equation, three* never change:
Note the current millennium: 2000*
Subtract the year of my birth: – 1932*
Derive the product, my age at the millennium: 68*
The beauty to this calculation is that, for the entire remainder of my life, however long I may live, I will always have been 68 in the year 2000. The changing number of my age is then easily calculated by adding 68 + x, when x = the number of years since the millennium.
This sum, though it does indeed change every year, appears before us almost daily: pick up a newspaper or turn on your computer, and, whatever manufacturers and publishers may really wish to sell us or tell us–they reliably document the date. In this land of the Macintosh computer and the New York Times, it’s a piece of cake.
Given this formula, my age at my 2012 birthday will be, TA-DA:
(68* + 12)= 80.
The Big Eight-O, God willing. Kick the wheels, and I’m ready to roll, a whole new, spectacular decade!
8:05 A.M. The phone rings.
I’m already awake, but my some-time roommate is still asleep, I think. I jump out of bed, run to the study, step across his palette on the floor, over his feet–and try to grab the phone before it can ring a third time.
“Hello?” I say in hushed tones.
“Hello,” the male voice says. “This is Newt Gingrich. As you know, Barack Obama has . . .”
I don’t want to hear any more and slam down the phone.
As I know, Barack Obama has been an incredibly good president, standing up against the most trying sorts of resistance from the opposition.
As I also know, Newt Gingrich has proven himself a conniving and self-righteous opportunist. From the likes of him, the less seen and heard, the better.
If this is the best the Republicans can do, they need not call me. They need, instead, to call time out, get in a huddle, pick a new quarterback, and come back into the game with a fresh strategy–one that gives their side a reasonable chance of giving the Democrats a fair fight and makes the voting public really have to think before they pull the lever in the voting booth.
And besides: A girl needs her rest. I don’t vote for anybody who phones before I’m out of bed in the morning.
“Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg, and howlet’s wing,–
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.”
Macbeth (IV, i, 14-15)
I’ve begun to think of being 80 (next birthday!) as one of those “stages” of life like infancy or adolescence: Live long enough, and it happens. Like the warm-up exercises, age carries its own peculiar physical and intellectual characteristics. But–and this may be even more astonishing and delightful–it also carries its own spiritual understandings and physical pleasures. Call it fun!
If we had been more attentive when we first heard it in Sunday school, and more imaginative, we would have anticipated the great scene that would take place before the Final Curtain:
“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man [or, as in my case, a woman], I put away childish things.” (KJV, 1 Corinthians 13:11)
Well, yes: “childish things.” Whatever they are. Whoopee! As our mothers ordered us to do after we had had, like Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat, an exhaustingly creative and entertaining day, devising one inventive mess after another, God now wants us to straighten our rooms, clean up our act, and get ready for bed?
It’s no easier to “put away childish things” now than it was long ago. Surely we’re not expected to step across some threshold that then ensures that we’ll be thought of, forever after, as monolithically recognizable “adults”?
There is, of course, the “second childhood” that happens to some. But how much of senile dementia is decay–and how much is fear, the wish not to let go of the known and beloved? I suggest that this form of dementia may simply be a failure of the normal aging mind to step across newer, more distant, and perhaps more frightening boundaries, the wish to postpone the onset of Eternal Adulthood.
As we embrace seniority, with its attendant responsibilities, why should we not also embrace old age–with its rewards? And what are they? Though we fly to things we know not of, are they necessarily, as Prince Hamlet asked himself, evil?
To take as good physical care of ourselves as old people as we did as young people–or better care,
To anticipate the coming experience as yet another threshold, as full of revelation and opportunity as was our youth,
To love as broadly and wisely and unselfishly as we can, and
To focus, as we did as teenagers, on what we will do “when we grow up.”
In the immortal words of Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” For now, folks, it’s game time.
Sins & Rewards / Negatives & Positives: A Retired English Teacher Revises the 10 Commandments (or, A Tireless Student of English Improves the King James Bible)
From the vantage point of many years and the leisure for contemplation, it seems to me that we (the human race, western style) have got some things wrong. We have had so drilled into us, since before the age of reason, that we should obey the Ten Commandments, that we froze out the actual meaning of the words. I invite you, first, to admire the following tiny, and very beautiful, reproduction of an 18th century rendering of this codex (which I think is the Big Ten—but even if not, the contemplation of its beauty is good for us):
1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.Worship God, and only God.2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.Keep a mental image of God in your heart; forget the rest.3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.Speak of, and to, God with love and respect.* 4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.(Affirmative as written).* 5. Honor thy father and thy mother.(Affirmative as written.)6. Thou shalt not kill.Subdue your impulse to kill anyone.7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.Be faithful to your lawfully wedded spouse.8. Thou shalt not steal.Take care to satisfy your and your family’s needs by honorable means.9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.Be truthful about and in your relations with your neighbors.10. Thou shalt not covet… (thy neighbor’s house, wife, servants, ox, ass—anything!)Be content with the products of your own labor and good fortune.
One occupation that never fails to fill a little time pleasantly is to perch on the rickety blue ladder/stool next to the narrow window in my tiny kitchen, coffee cup in hand, and crane my neck to observe the passing parade on 37th Street, five floors below.
Which parade, as a result of the great wisdom of New York’s founding city planners, flows in two directions on the major crosstown thoroughfares, such as 34th and 42nd Streets. But on the narrower four-lane east-west streets crossing those two specific arteries, the two lanes of moving traffic alternate direction between parked cars on either side. Everything on 36th and 38th (even-numbered) Streets moves from west to east, everything on 37th beneath my window (and on all odd-numbered streets) from east to west.
Thus I sat at that window with my coffee at noon on Sunday, October 30, 2011, idly entertaining myself with this small segment of the city’s transit. And, watching, I became bemused by the extraordinary number of taxicabs passing below. Unlike smaller towns, in which one must phone to order a cab and then await its arrival, New York City has become the kind of metropolis in which the pedestrian must take care to avoid being hit by one of them.
From my vantage point five floors above, the street became a wriggling, squirming, speeding kaleidoscope of cabs with rooftop messages:
“Broadway.com SKYRIM” (a show? This was not clear from the sign.)
“Flashdancer Gentlemen’s Club”
“Eau de Parfum”
“Put your brand on top.”
“All new episodes” (referring to the Stiller and Murphy TV comedy)
I was easily able to tally the number of passing cabs for the first half hour–thirty short minutes–between Noon and 12:30. Of those minutes, the first 15 were busier: 32 cabs choked the lanes then, declining to 30 for the second 15 minutes. Sixty-two cabs in a half hour. Slightly more than two per minute. One hundred twenty-four per hour. Almost 1,000 in eight hours. When a red light stopped traffic at Fifth Avenue to the west, there might be five or six Yellow Cabs in the street at once, idling their motors, ready to move at the first sign of green. A far cry from Chattanooga, Tennessee, where, when I left home on a beautiful bluff above the Tennessee River, for the lovely old Read House hotel downtown, where I would spend the night before moving back to New York the next day, I phoned a cab and then waited for probably twenty minutes.
By 12:30, my coffee and my allotted time were gone. There were things to do, and I turned away from the window to take care of them. As I busied myself at my desk, all those diversions on the street were out of sight. But not out of earshot nor out of mind. In the street five floors below, from early morning until late at night, honking horns and shifting gears and accelerating engines are the background music that keeps me awake, alert, and entertained—or lulled to sleep—in my tiny apartment.