Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Shipwreck Of Old Age

I lived in California on and off between 1982 and 1998 but I have to confess the luster is off the Golden State for me. This pretty much sums it up: a state unto itself.On hearing we from the Sunshine State the Agricultural Inspector asked to poke around in our trunk. He found nothing fruit like or agricultural in there so we were free to join California's 30 million bankrupt residents. Cool.
It wasn't actually a customs inspection, outlawed by the US Supreme Court when Okies were trying to find work here in the last Great Depression but the sensation we had entered another country was bolstered by the gas station attendant (312 cents a gallon) in Blythe who asked my wife if she was buying gas before she would agree to part with the restroom key for my wife who was anxiously crossing her legs after hours in the desert. Nowhere else had anyone given a (metaphorical) shit when we went to pee on our travels.We were scheduled to spend the night with T and Jack in their opulent home near downtown Los Angeles. We had last seen them in Washington DC when Jack had a job with the Justice Department, an unhappy job in the Bush Administration, and T (shown above) was working his union job. Before we met the boys for dinner we had to have lunch and see my wife's Great Uncle Hy in Santa Monica.Hy is 97 years old and has lived a life that anyone would envy. He has been married to the same woman all his life, and has worked since the 1930s as a CPA with the Jim Beam whisky people. He is still a member of their foundation. His apartment is a treasure trove of memories as one might expect. Hy taught my wife and I how to invest in the stock market, many years ago and gave us the wisdom to get out before the great fluctuations heaved the market out of the rut of sense and sensibility. His wife Sadye is barely younger than he but at 94 has lost her mind to dementia and spends her days strong of body, sleeping away her life in a rest home. Hy soldiers on, keenly interested in the world around him, debating the issue of the day, questioning us about the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, shaking his head at the banking shenanigans. He is quite deaf, hence the headphones and he communicates bets by e-mail. His legs are weak and he has difficulty moving around. "What are you going to do?" he shrugs philosophically. He calls his advanced years "The Shipwreck of Old Age" quoting Charles de Gaulle. His is a shipwreck of the body not the mind.
It was a bittersweet visit. Overnight he suffered a fall and a subsequent loss of confidence after a night spent on the floor. He told us it had been a good life, he loved us and was glad to have known us, in the manner of a man ready to leave this life. " I have outlived my usefulness," he said sadly and one wonders what to say to a man of 97 about the meaning of life.Hy on the left and Sadye on the right lived a good life together and wasted not a minute. " She was a good wife," he told us. He was a good man too, no doubt about that, and he still is.
It has been brought home to me this trip that we are sliding slowly and inexorably into the unwanted position of the elder generation. Old age is shipwrecking all around us, dementia, exhaustion and cancer are taking their toll. For us young 'uns, it is just a matter of time.
The good news is that we are still able to enjoy the premier Jewish Deli that Hy used to take my wife's family to visit decades ago. A pastrami sandwich for her (below), and a brisket sandwich for me (above). My lunch meat was wedged between two potato latkes (pancakes) substituting for bread!
Junior's is the epitome of where Jews eat, a vast bakery, cakes, huge portions, and miles of seating partitioned off up and down the dining room. I panned the camera round the room while we waited (briefly) for the arrival of our late lunch.
And the aquarium on the way out.
Do not miss Junior's when the opportunity arises.
Cheyenne was already starting to enjoy the cool, foggy California summer.
Home sweet home, California, like it or not.