On Saturday afternoon, I bundle up in self-pity and sweaters to take a brief spin to the Arboretum to catch the last color of the Autumn leaves. We stop at the supermarket on the way home so B- can run in while I rest in the car, but he returns to the realization that he has a super-flat tire and calls AAA, who says no one can come for 90 minutes. But we know how this company works, with understaffing and underpaying and bullshit promises, so at my whispered prompts Barry warns that he’s got a sick old woman in the car who won’t last that long. The dispatcher makes some calls and amends his offer to 60 minutes.
For the first time since I’ve known him, B- has forgotten his cell phone and my iPhone is down to 9% and falling. I need to go home and get his phone and my charger, but it’s about a mile walk and my stamina is compromised. I spot two old women slowly heading for their car with grocery bags. I just have a feeling about them, so I approach, keeping an unthreatening distance, to ask if they’re going down the main street as it’s my 65th birthday and we have a flat tire and I need to get home. Lo and behold they live in the big white building across the street from mine, the expensive one, so I climb into the back seat of Agnes’ car. Her sister Mary moved into the white building after she was widowed, they tell me as I struggle to repress the coughs that are threatening to explode, and then Agnes got a place on the 6th floor. “Oh, I’m on the 7th floor,” I say, “I hope you’re not peeking in my window.” Such giggles bubble around the car that I am at my door before I can make another joke.
I get back to the supermarket parking lot where we wait and wait, until finally a huge tow truck arrives, 80 minutes after our first call. The guy leaps out of his cab speed-speaking that he is the only one on duty, that he has 32 calls backed up, and that he has come right to us from Peabody, 22 miles away. The last time we had a AAA guy, he was a teddy bear, competent in the face of mayhem, reassuring, sweet. This guy is wired and freaked. He tells us, I’ve been working six days straight and today was supposed to be my day off but I have to work from 6:00 am until tomorrow morning at 9:00 am and there were supposed to be a bunch of other guys but what the fuck did they care, they didn’t turn up and so I come in, like a chump, only getting paid $3.80 for each call, and where’s your jack, mine got stolen from the truck last night.
It’s a long time and a cast of many characters until we finally assemble all the necessary parts of the jack so that he can do his job. What was meant to be a quicky break from the sick room to see some foliage has turned into a draining drama. I go home and sleep.
On Sunday we are going to hear my favorite choral group in the world Young@Heart. I’ve reviewed their show and their film and interviewed the devoted founder/conductor/glue Bob Cilman. We’re driving 2.5 hours to Northampton for the matinee finale to a long international tour to celebrate their 30th anniversary. From the very first song I find myself sobbing and I don’t stop until after the final encore. Their performance is simply heart-stopping, their talent abundant, and the march of time on the veteran members, well, frightening.
Cilman has brought back past stars for the anniversary show, people who for health reasons I assume have had to leave the chorus. A scrapbook of photos spanning the decades is projected behind the stage, including one shot of a cast member doing the splits. Cilman introduces her where she is sitting in the audience at 101 years old and it is all anyone can do to keep her from running onto the stage to do the splits again.
The strength of their community, their fight against obvious arthritis and imbalance, the passion behind their success combined with the occasion of my 65th birthday remind me of how many books I have written but not published, how many books I still want to write, how deeply I miss the days of revolutionary action, and of how I lack the kind of posse, full of comrades, that we used to call a collective. It’s not that I don’t have a posse anymore. It’s that they are scattered from London to Bristol to Tel Aviv to Vallecchia; they’re in California, Oregon, New York, Massachusetts and Vermont. What can we realistically do for and with each other when the need arises?
I know how short the time ahead has become and right now, right here, I must decide what I’m going to be when I grow up. No, not decide. Just do it. I want to write and I want to self-publish and I want to find the right times and places to do that in, not an easy task when I’m still working so hard for my bread.
Monday, my actual birthday, I work as usual. I teach my two senior fitness classes, 30 students per class. The first group sings me happy birthday and gives me $100 gift certificate to Trader Joe’s. This is a brilliant gift and I say so. I promise to buy all those expensive things – cuts of meat, for example – that I avoid on my own dime – but of course I do nothing of the kind. The second class takes me to lunch at a local noodle house – something that has become our tradition over the years. We have lost three men this term already with one to pass away a few hours after our lunch and two more too ill to attend. It is a depleted group with a disproportionate number of widows, but at least they are looking after each other.
But the festivities are yet to wrap up. Donna and Gail and Debby have decided to extend the celebrations to dinner on Friday night. Gail cooks, Donna bakes (and bakes again) and Debby entertains. This time Donna has gone overboard. Not only has she made my beloved apple pie for dessert, she has made a second one for me to take home whole. It makes me a much more congenial dinner guest as contrasted with our annual Thanksgiving gala at which I’m busy encouraging everyone to go for the pumpkin pie (to Gail’s disappointment), rather than the apple, knowing I may be taking home the leftovers.
What are the upsides of turning 65? Of course Medicare is the big one, although it is much more expensive than I anticipated, the coverage is less comprehensive than I would wish, and the paperwork is such a labyrinth for a writer with a Masters degree, that I worry about elders without my advantages. There are the reduced rates for transportation, although I can’t quite figure why the backside of my Charlie Card is stamped with a giant SENIOR! when the card is programmed for the discount. My favorite thrift store has a Wednesday senior discount on clothes with red or green tags. And then there was the experience I had with my friend Sue from London. We were taking an Amtrak train from DC to Baltimore. Once they posted the track number, a gazillion passengers rushed to get in line. Sue and I were both hauling suitcases and she is 7 years older than me, but I am skilled at elbowing my way towards the front.
We heard the person on the loud speaker say, “We will be boarding First Class passengers first. Thank you.” There was a brief pause. “And now we invite all seniors and people with disabilities to come forward and pre-board.” Our discounted tickets in hand, we extracted ourselves from the heaving masses and made our way to the front, our several chins held high.