Recently I hosted a dinner and book signing at a friend's restaurant in Charlotte. Me and Tom Condron, the Chef/Owner go way back. So after everyone had a glass of wine and a few hors d'oeuvre in them they sat down. We were all in a great mood, it was a Saturday night and the anticipation of a great evening was in front of us. Of the 40 guests in the room, only four had finished my novel, five were in the process and some of them were probably there for a little something different on a Saturday night. I gave a quick introduction, talked about what sent me down a writer's path then told a couple of quick stories about me and Tom and soon everyone was laughing and raising their glasses. I waited for everyone to settle down then I read the first page of my novel:
If I had to name the most infuriating part of being this old, I would have to say that first and foremost, it's the crumbs. I cannot seem to control the food crumbs. They pile up on the edges of my mouth, the tip of my chin, and are scattered from the top of my shirt to the edges of my lap, often giving me the appearance of a wheelchair-bound Santa Claus at the bottom of a snow globe before he gets shaken up. I would wipe them away, but in order to do that one needs to be able to control their own hands, and on some days my hands shake so bad I can't even hold a napkin. Today the service staff at this over-priced retirement community has more pressing business than to bother with the crumbs on an old man's shirt. I'm rolling down the hallway after a messy breakfast so I can continue shaking behind closed doors, when the prettiest woman I have seen in years comes into focus. She is maybe five feet, eight inches tall with shoulder length brown hair, high cheeks and green eyes behind thin eyeglasses. She smiles at me. It is an absolutely gorgeous smile, and I'm covered in flecks of grits and toast, sausage grease and a smear of grape jelly, a rolling menu that my fellow residents can practically place their own orders from. If she stops to talk to me, there will be no limit to my humiliation.
I'm a retired fire fighter. In my day, I stood six feet, four inches tall and my chest and biceps crowded the fullest shirts. Even the most sophisticated women -- such as this young lady in front of me -- would routinely be reduced to smiles, incomplete sentences and nervous giggles when I showed up at their minor kitchen fires, usually created by their fumbling children or inept husband's attempt at a Mother's Day breakfast. My guys at the station house called my ability to render women incapable of uttering a coherent sentence the "Bannon Effect." The reports filed after minor fires often read something like: The homeowner attempted to provide a statement at the scene. However, the trauma associated with the incident coupled with the Bannon Effect provided by the Station Captain prevented the homeowner from offering a reasonable statement regarding said incident. And now, old age has reduced me to a 225-pound crumb-covered and palsied burden that even I cannot be bothered to care for. Please God, let this woman walk past me.
After a few seconds of silence a gentleman spoke up, "So this isn't a cookbook?"
Good writing should make a personal connection with you, grab you and hold on, speak to your fears or dreams. And that night in my audience maybe half of these people were over 60 years old and I'm certain they were thinking "Good God, in a few years that could be me in that wheelchair." Perhaps some of these people, like myself, have a parent in a nursing home and wonder how they're treated when no one is looking.
The inevitably of old age is a given and with it comes a diminishment of our ability to take care of ourselves. It's possible that as we age, we may need help doing even the simplest of things such as eating. If we do end up in a retirement home, no matter how pricey that home is, will we have someone to wipe the crumbs off of our chins, not because they're paid to or because someone is looking, but because it's the right thing to do?
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